How We’ll Know If the Biden-Putin Summit Was a Success

And why foreign policy is not just ‘a logical extension of personal relationships.’

he Biden administration set the bar so low for the president’s Geneva summit with Vladimir Putin that it was pretty much foreordained to be a “success.” Pre-summit backgrounding by an unnamed U.S. senior official indicated that “we’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting.” The basic point of the meeting appeared to be branding, or what has been dubbed “station identification.” There would be no Obama-like effort to “reset” the relationship, nor a Trump-like slavish search for Putin’s personal approval.

Rather the agenda, according to the anonymous official, was more modest:

We are seeking three basic things:

First, a clear set of taskings about areas where working together can advance our national interest and make the world safer.

Second, a clear laydown of the areas of America’s vital national interests, where Russian activities that run counter to those interests will be met with a response.

And third, a clear explication of the President’s vision for American values and our national priorities.

Earlier backgrounding by the administration had suggested that the most likely outcomes of the summit would be (1) the return of ambassadors to capitals (Russia had recalled Ambassador Anatoly Antonov to Moscow in March after Biden’s comment calling Putin a killer and had strongly suggested Ambassador John Sullivan return to the United States—which he did in April after some initial hesitation); and (2) the empaneling of various working groups to pursue some major issues of mutual concern—like strategic stability and cybersecurity. Both Biden’s and Putin’s post-summit comments suggest that the meeting, which ran shorter than anticipated, achieved this de minimis set of objectives and Biden wisely avoided a joint press conference so that none of his staff would feel the need to feign a health emergency or think about pulling a fire alarm (as Fiona Hill has suggested she considered at Helsinki in 2018 to bring down the curtain on the mortifying spectacle of President Trump siding with Putin against his own intelligence community).

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