Dr Paul Vallet: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy weekly podcast. I'm your host, Dr Paul Vallet, Associate Fellow in the Global Fellowship Initiative. As you all know, on the 16th of June 2021, Geneva hosted the first in person meeting of President of the United States Joe Biden, and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. This was the first in person meeting of the two leaders since Biden's election to the presidency of the US. It was a Summit which had generated a lot of interest a lot of coverage, over 3,000 journalists converged on Geneva for what was billed as an important and historical landmark meeting that was in line with previous US-Soviet meetings in Geneva, in 1955, and 1985. Much was expected and much was on the agenda for this meeting for which the Swiss government played host. During the day, the GCSP joined the array of commentators for this event, by constituting a specially dedicated newsroom in which we coordinated a lot of the views of our different experts and relayed also interviews given to the local and international press. We've also produced a series of video commentaries virtually live to offer on-the-moment comment, especially following the two press conferences that the leaders held separately in the evening of June 16, before they returned to their respective countries. So, today's podcast is a little bit because we've decided to rebroadcast some of these views to give you of course, what our experts see as the important takeaways from the Summit. Our first speaker was also of course, the speaker on this podcast a few weeks ago, I'm talking about Mr Marc Finaud, the head of disarmament and arms control activities at the GCSP. Here's what he had to say about the conclusions reached by the two leaders.
Mr Marc Finaud: The main success of this the Summit is that it could be held that both presidents could meet face to face with their teams. Apparently, they're both satisfied that the climate was constructive, business like no hostility. And they did address all the contentious issues. And so that that in itself is a good sign. Now, obviously, the expectations of a major breakthrough or agreement were very low, and this is confirmed. There is one important point, however, is this joint statement reaffirming the Reagan-Gorbachev doctrine and principle, that a nuclear war cannot be won and therefore should not be fought. Now, it seems like something, usual or expected, but in the current context of tensions, of risk of escalation from conflict, and in this arms race, to include categories of nuclear weapons that decrease the threshold of use of nuclear weapons and increase the risk of use of nuclear weapons. This is a much welcome statement. Now, the other aspect is the announcement of a new process of discussion negotiation, to presumably replace the New START Treaty, which has been extended for five years, but maybe with a bigger ambition, because this is about strategic stability. Now, the experts, the diplomats know how to read between the lines, so this is, of course, about arms control, reduction of existing stockpiles, but also tackling and reducing the risk of use of nuclear weapons, and, of course, all related technologies, including conventional weapons that some believe are destabilising, the defensive systems, in addition to offensive systems, so major ambition. Now, of course, as we know, the devil is in the details. So we have to know how the teams that will meet hopefully soon, and maybe in Geneva, will address on these issues, will work on the venue, the agenda, the content of the negotiations, but in itself, it's a very encouraging development. Of course on the other issues, the regional conflict in Ukraine, Middle East, cyber security, human rights, all these issues, again, it's good that they had a chance to address them directly, frankly, there is another important achievement, which is this decision to have some dialogue, some discussion about cyber security, because the security of both states is really at stake. And of course, it has major international implications. But on the other issues like Ukraine, obviously, there was a reference to the existing frameworks, such as the Minsk Agreement. So it's good that hopefully this this will be revived and finally implemented.
Dr Paul Vallet: Our next speaker was also a guest on this podcast. And she of course, already spoke precisely about some of the issues that would be discussed on the Summit. I'm talking about Ms Alexandra Matas, the Head of Effective Governance at the GCSP. She is now speaking up to give a bit of a Russian perspective on the takeaways from the Summit.
Ms Alexandra Matas: Today's summit was held in a context of deep relational crisis between Russia and the West. The US and Russia have diverging views on numerous issues, and the level of mutual mistrust is significant. However, following and based on President Putin's press conference, it appears that both leaders have managed to achieve constructive discussions, and have agreed to continue a dialogue on several topics. First of all, both leaders have committed to resign their respective Ambassadors to the host countries. This step is key for the stabilisation of relations in times of crisis, as diplomatic contexts need to be intensified. Secondly, an agreement to hold consultations between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the United States State Department on strategic stability and arms control has been reached. This possible outcome of the Summit was predicted by many experts, including the GCSP experts prior to the meeting, as the need for such dialogue is urgent, and not only for Russia and the United States, but also for the international community as a whole. Cyber Security is another area where both countries agreed to hold consultations. However, no major breakthroughs seem to have been achieved on the topic of Ukraine. The Russian call to implement the Minsk Agreement remains unchanged. Both leaders seem to have an understanding of each other's red lines and acceptable rules of behaviour. Both very important in this highly confrontational situation. Further discussion on the red lines are also expected to be on the agenda of the future dialogues between the two states. President Putin said that he had no illusions with regards to Russian relations visa via the United States. He however, mentioned that, genuinely speaking, both leaders understood each other and that the talks were positive and cordial in tone, taking into account the progress, which was made on a number of international political issues. And given the highly moderate expectations voiced out by the expert community prior to the Summit. I believe that we can deem the meeting of this leaders as success as a framework for future dialogue was agreed.
Dr Paul Vallet: The director of the GCSP Ambassador Thomas Greminger provides the third perspective on the Geneva summit.
Ambassador Thomas Greminger: The third US-Russia Summit in Geneva is history. We cannot properly assess yet if the results of the Summit are indeed to be considered historical. But there are a few preliminary conclusions that we can draw. One is clearly that the atmospherics of the conversation was very positive. The two Presidents met each other with a lot of respect. And they had quite a long two hour one-to-one conversation, which is normally quite a significant indicator for a “constructive atmosphere”. What we can also assess at this stage is that the two have identified a number of areas in which they tend to cooperate, to intensify to launch cooperation in the months to come. And once the concrete results of these cooperation’s will then also be in a better position to judge the real value of this summit. The areas that have been identified are partly the expected ones, among them. strategic stability, that implies political military issues, disarmament nuclear, perhaps also non-nuclear. The two Presidents refer to a detailed list of items that they have identified for these talks, and an intention to institutionalise them. That's important. Cyber was mentioned as an area where they would want to continue with expert talks, bilateral expert talks, not least to identify red lines, meaning critical infrastructures that cannot be the target of an attack. Other areas where they want to work together in the months to come are Syria in terms of establishing a humanitarian corridor, the Arctic was mentioned that was an allusion to cooperation on climate change. So quite a list on areas where dialogue can be resumed and cooperation with concrete practical outcomes can be achieved. Again, it will have to be seen and President Biden also said so very clearly, what will be the outcome of these processes in the next few months. But I think an important first step has been done today, the two met, the two talked about this in a very polarised environment. And indeed they identified areas where they want to cooperate despite of an overall very complicated and confrontational bilateral relation.
Dr Paul Vallet: The fourth perspective is provided by Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, the Head of Global and Emerging Risk at the GCSP.
Dr Jean Marc Rickli: So the importance of the Geneva Summit is that it allowed a resumption of dialogue between Russia and United States, which had reached the lowest point in terms of relationship since the end of the Cold War. So the expectations were not high. But still we managed to have a joint-communicate that mentioned that a shared goal is to ensure predictability the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of conflicts and the threat of nuclear war. And it goes on to say that they, Russia and the United States will embark on an integrated bilateral strategic dialogue in the near future, that will be deliberate and robust. Through this dialogue, these two countries seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures. I think that the two takeaways of this this meeting are the following. First, there has been a resumption of the dialogue that will materialise with each Ambassador, returning to the posting in Washington and Moscow. This is very important, because this is part of diplomacy. The second key takeaway is really about managing strategic stability and preventing conflict escalation. In terms of strategic stability. The two countries have committed themselves to work on nuclear weapons, they highlight the New START Treaty, and maybe that could be the springboard for a further agreement in arms control. Obviously, for the United States perspective, they would like probably to include China in any future negotiation. Another issue of interest in terms of strategic stability is cyber security. And during its press conference, President Biden mentioned 16 categories of a critical infrastructure that should be off limits in terms of cyber attacks. Potentially also, this dialogue will lead to discussion about emerging strategic technologies such as artificial intelligence, as well as hypersonic weapons. In terms of conflict management and prevention of conflict escalation, discussion relating to the fate of Ukraine, and but maybe also, Libya, as well or Syria will be part of the future agenda. So overall, no major breakthrough, but probably, history will tell that this Summit was important in actually stopping the spiral towards non negotiation and non-dialogue between Russia and the United States and initiated a new dialogue that will actually foster a more strategic stability and prevent future conflict or conflict escalation in the future.
Dr Paul Vallet: And finally, for once I have to introduce myself, since I also spoke to analyse a little bit of the style of the two different press conferences which we had on the evening of June 16. So we had two different conferences in style, which reflected I think both the characters of the respective individuals, it was very telling to see Vladimir Putin in a sort of a very formal setting indoors. And Joe Biden in a rather more informal setting out of doors and even shedding his jacket at one point. And the two men's characters also working out, I think, quite clearly in this in their demonstrations. We also got, I think, two different impressions from how the Summit went. The one point that connects them was that they explained that the discussions had been formal in tone and to poor Joe Biden and never been strident and yet actually touched on a number of subjects on which we clearly saw in both the conferences the amount of disagreement. Now, it may seem that it constitutes a difficult material to progress on an improvement of relations in the short term. What we've mainly been informed about has been the return of the Ambassadors to their respective capitals. And the decision to roll over the New START Treaty for five years, though that still leaves it to be renegotiated. On most of the other subjects on cyber, on the Arctic, on Ukraine, on Afghanistan, there was basically an exchange of views but it's very hard to get see where any common ground is because both parties have been sticking to their positions.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, as you could guess from the ample commentary that was generated by the summit, there are many conclusions that can be taken from this meeting in Geneva on June 16. Nevertheless, a lot remains to be determined. So I hope these commentaries will have helped to you form and inform your opinion on this matter, and that we will be able to return to this important discussion of bilateral US-Russian relations in the future and also in a lot of other GCSP activities once we will resume in the later future. So, I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. I want to thank you listeners for joining us this week. Thank you also to our commentators to Mr Marc Finaud, to Ms Alexandra Matas for joining us on this programme. Please join us again next week to hear more about issues of peace, international security and international cooperation. I remind you that you can still subscribe to our programme on Anchor FM on Apple iTunes, you can follow us on Spotify and on SoundCloud. Until next week, I'm Dr. Paul Vallet for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Thanks for listening and goodbye.
Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this digital product are the speakers’ own and do not necessarily reflect those shared by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, its Foundation Council members or its employees. The GCSP is not responsible for and may not always verify the accuracy of the information contained in the digital products. Small editing differences occur between the audio and written transcript as well.