Wednesday

29th Sep 2021

US and Russia restart talks on cyber and nuclear war

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin (l) and US president Joe Biden in Geneva on Wednesday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Relations between the US and Russia warmed up slightly after a summit in Switzerland, even as the EU predicted ties with Russia would get worse in future.

US president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed to reinstate each other's ambassadors in Moscow and Washington.

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They also agreed to launch new dialogues on cyber security and nuclear arms control, but with no details, such as dates, for either of the two steps.

These were the only concrete decisions that came out of their three-hour long talks in an 18th-century palace on the shore of Lake Geneva on Wednesday (16 June).

Biden also warned Putin not to launch cyber attacks on US infrastructure and to make sure Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stayed alive.

"I looked at him [Putin] and said how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?," Biden said, adding that the US had "unrivalled" cyber-war capacities if it needed to retaliate.

"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," he added.

And the consequences for Russia if Navalny died in prison would be "devastating", he added, alluding to new US sanctions.

"I also told him [Putin] that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for universal rights," Biden said.

"They [the Russians] are being squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power," he also said, when asked why Russia might want better relations with the US.

For his part, Putin repeated his normal talking points on Ukraine, Navalny, and US democracy, denying he had invaded his neighbour or poisoned his opponent, while accusing the US of persecuting the mob which stormed The Capitol in January.

But those harsh words aside, both men struck a largely conciliatory tone in their separate press briefings.

The talks were "good, positive. There wasn't any strident action," Biden said.

"It's about self-interest and the verification of self-interest. Or, as the old expression goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating", he added, when asked if he trusted Putin.

"There was no hostility. On the contrary," Putin said.

"It doesn't mean we looked into each other's eyes or souls. We have to represent our countries. The relationship is a pragmatic one," he added.

Asked if he was happy with the outcome, he replied by paraphrasing Russian writer Tolstoy: "There is no happiness in life, only glimmers of it. Cherish them".

"There were no earth-shattering moments there, to say the least. We got what we anticipated, but it was a pretty low bar, and low expectations. And we met those expectations," Alina Polyakova, an expert at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, a US think-tank, said.

Meanwhile, speaking in Brussels the same day, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell painted a gloomier picture of future Russia ties.

"The deliberate policy choices of the Russian government over the last years have created a negative spiral in our relations ... This further downturn is the most likely outlook for the time being," he told press, while presenting a new report on Russia.

The EU ought to "push back against human rights violations, breaches of international law in our member states and in our neighborhood and continue to speak up for democratic values," he added.

His report suggested cooperation with Moscow on climate change, Covid-19, and Middle East conflicts.

It said the EU needed "increased transparency on financial flows concerning Russia" in order to root out Russia-linked corruption and money laundering in Europe, but stopped short of suggesting operational measures.

The EU should also strive to become "less dependent" on Russian oil and gas, it added, even though Germany is about to complete a new gas pipeline with Russia.

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