By Dhiraj Kumar
It has been almost five months since Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. took office as the 46th President of the United States defeating Donald Trump in a closely contested election in January 2021. Biden’s first trip as U.S. President took place last week when he departed for an extensive visit to Europe. He had a packed schedule ahead of him of including attending the 47th G7 summit, the NATO summit, the meeting with the European council, and a highly anticipated first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the US-Russia summit.
First on the schedule was a visit to the ceremonial county of Cornwall in southwest England where the G7 countries had assembled from 11th to 13th June to discuss the challenges impacting the world. The 2020 meeting had been canceled due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from the G7, India, South Africa, South Korea, and South Africa were also invited to the meeting. Queen Elizabeth, the royal family, and the United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the attendees on the first day of the summit and clicked a famed photograph with the G7. Covid-19 response and climate change were top of the agenda for this year. G7 has had strained relations with Russia and member countries have had differing opinions of inviting Russia to the grouping. Biden took the G7 opportunity to strike a new relationship with his one-on-one meetings with world leaders Angela Merkel, Emanuel Macron amongst others. At a press conference after the summit, his opening remarks called the G7 meeting an “extraordinary, collaborative and productive meeting” and announced that there will be an alternative found for China’s belt and road initiative “there is a much more equitable way to provide for the needs of the countries across the world”. Biden and the G7 agreed to help meet a $40 trillion infrastructure support for the developing world in the areas of climate, health, digital technology, and gender equality. He spoke about the Covid-19 pandemic and stressed on economic recovery, pledging the US will donate 500 million Pfizer vaccines for other countries, out of which 200 million will be despatched by the end of 2021. He ended the trip to the UK with the visit to Windsor Castle to a ceremonial reception accorded by the Queen. Biden happens to be the 13th sitting president to have met the longest-reigning monarch. The G7 gave a thumbs up to Joe Biden calling him a “breath of fresh air”. His previous experience of working as Obama’s Vice President from 2008-16 gave him a good start with other world leaders.
Joe Biden landed in Brussels for the US-EU summit, where a breakthrough was achieved. The discussions between Biden, European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen helped address the longest-running dispute in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to halt the 17-year-old trade war over aircraft subsidies for 5 years. The European Council heaved a sigh of relief as these subsidies had created impediments in their relationship with the US. Putting the subsidy issue at the backburner, the US & EU were positively moving from “litigation to cooperation”. It was time to prioritize other issues that needed urgent attention. US & EU have a firm eye on China and its growing influence. The US Commerce Secretary Gina Marie Raimondo in an interview remarked their priority is to “write the rules of the road”. She mentioned that they faced a common economic threat as China flooded cheap iron and steel flooding the US market against which domestic firms needed to be protected. US and EU Council also agreed to create a new council for trade and technology that “will cover a number of significant areas of priority for both the United States and the European Union, from coordinating on standards for new technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology; to coordinating on supply chain resilience; to coordinating on import or investment screening and export controls; to coordinating on how best to reform the WTO”.
The influence of Russia and China was the key focus at the NATO Summit attended by Joe Biden. He aims to partner with Pacific and Atlantic countries to take on the twin challenge of Russia and China on a long-term basis. An America “back on track” after the controversial Trump era, signaled strengthening of relationships with allies to take on the challenges posed by China and Russia. The formation of the QUAD countries India, Japan, Australia, and United States, and the NATO alliance would be Biden’s plan to encircle China on its expansionism and economic havoc while with Russia the Quad and NATO partnerships aim to take on cybersecurity, human rights, and arms control as an agenda. In his press conference, Biden announced “”America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values. I felt a genuine sense of enthusiasm that America was back at the table and fully engaged” calling it a day of “productive meetings”.
The best was kept for the last. All eyes were on the Biden-Putin summit to be held in Geneva, Switzerland on the 16th of June 2021. An ornate 18th-century villa, Villa la Grange, on the bank of Lake Geneva was chosen as the venue where two of the world’s most powerful, influential adversaries were to meet for the first time in a face-to-face meeting after Joe Biden took office in January 2021. Putin and Biden arrived in large cavalcades of limousines to the reception podium where Swiss President Guy Parmelin had the fortune of hosting the two warring countries on Swiss soil. After the initial handshake, both leaders got down for a serious discussion on issues to end the stalemate in relations. The meeting with Putin in Geneva lasted nearly 4 hours where Biden remarked they “covered so much, no misunderstandings” and “both sides summarised points” of what was discussed, and he was surprised to mention that the “meeting finished quicker than anticipated”.
Joe Biden and Putin addressed press conferences separately to inform the world of their “cordial talks”. Biden in his media interaction said, “The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive,” Biden said, adding: “The bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by”. Biden remarked that the discussions between them were “absolutely constructive”. The first agreement was to return the respective ambassadors to each other countries. The diplomatic relations had suffered hugely when Biden called Putin a “killer” in a television interview.
They discussed to “hope to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan” and limiting the use of nuclear weapons”. Cyber-attacks and security were high on the agenda of Biden as he picked up the topic with Russia saying that the USA will retaliate against any country from where the cyber-attack originates. (Majority of cyber-attacks in the US are purportedly launched from Russia). The U.S. has been worried about increasing cyber-attacks in the areas of energy systems to water resources. Biden hopes to have Putin’s backing on a “Cybersecurity arrangement”. Vladimir Putin in his press conference said that “assessments differ” but “understand each other” and “will work on converging positions”. Putin also appreciated Biden remarking “He’s a balanced and professional man, and it’s clear that he’s very experienced, it seems to me that we did speak the same language.” As an upholder of democratic values and human rights, Biden stressed the point that the U.S. will keep an eye on the human rights abuses and will not hesitate to take the matter when required.
Dubbed as a power summit, the one-to-one Biden-Putin meeting had extremely low expectations from the word go due to the tensions prevailing for the past many years between both countries. Their talks in listening to each other, appreciating points of view, and agreeing to work together to converge positions is being considered a positive step for world peace and progress.
Biden’s endeavor in the European excursion was to undo the damage done by ex-US President Trump in his rash behavior towards allies and his softer stance towards Russia. Towards the end Biden remarked to the press corps “We will find out, within the next 6 months to a year where there we have a strategic dialogue is working or not”. Only time will tell how much this meeting between Biden and Putin and Biden’s eight-day European excursion bears fruit.
(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and writer and he is writing his first book. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @authordhiraj.)