What does the coming year have in store for us: when can we expect a new meeting between Putin and Biden?

What does the coming year have in store for us: when can we expect a new meeting between Putin and Biden?

SHITOV Andrey

Andrey Shitov – about what experienced analysts on the banks of the Moscow River and the Hudson are afraid of

The New Year started off intriguingly. A meaningful conversation began between Russia, the United States and NATO about guarantees and the fundamentals of security. Literally today in Geneva, another Russian-American meeting took place in the development of this dialogue, this time at the level of the heads of foreign affairs agencies.

Speaking ahead of it in Berlin, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken indicated that he saw an opportunity to get along “peacefully and diplomatically,” although he emphasized that he could not compromise principles and threatened Moscow with punishment for non-compliance with them. “Of course, Russia has the right to defend itself, and the US and Europe are ready to discuss Russian concerns about their security and how we can resolve them on a reciprocal basis (in a reciprocal way),” he said.

For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recalled that the Geneva meeting of ministers was an intermediate meeting and no breakthrough decisions were obviously expected at it. “Anthony Blinken said that he was satisfied with the exchange of views that took place, which will help them next week – this has already been emphasized several times – to provide us with a written reaction,” Lavrov told reporters. This meant the reaction to the December written proposals from the Russian side.

A little later, at his own meeting with the press, Blinken confirmed that written responses from the United States should indeed be expected within the specified time frame. He also said that after that, the dialogue would continue at the ministerial level, and, if necessary, in personal communication between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. The Secretary of State recalled that not so long ago the leaders had already met in Geneva. 

No one knows for sure how long this dialogue will last and what it will lead to. But the fact remains that Moscow has finally made the collective West take seriously the issues of its own security, which have been troubling it for all 30 post-Soviet years – at least since the declaration that was signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush Sr. on February 1, 1992 at Camp David and formally and legally ended the Cold War period. The current readiness of the United States and NATO to discuss security guarantees for Russia is a breakthrough in itself, one that astonishes many analysts and forecasters on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone remembers how hard it was for Russia a year ago to convince Washington not to abandon at least the last fundamental document on arms control – the START-3 treaty.

Threats or hopes?

There is a legendary character in US pop culture – baseball player Yogi Berra, whose witticisms are as popular across the ocean as we have the aphorisms of the unforgettable prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. So, Berra once said: “Forecasts are difficult to build, especially about the future.” This, of course, is the harsh truth. And I have been following with great interest for a year now two groups of authoritative “Eurasian analysts” who are trying to do exactly this on the banks of the Moscow River and the Hudson.

This time, the MGIMO consulting agency “Eurasian Strategies” titled its report on key international threats for the current year “Seizure of the Initiative”. The intro illustration was also chosen to match: a mosaic by Alexander Deineka depicting hockey players vigorously fighting for the puck. It looks like a political oxymoron: in the title – threats, in the content – rather hopes.

However, the authors headed by the well-known Americanist Andrei Bezrukov and Andrei Sushentsov, dean of the Faculty of International Relations at MGIMO, do not claim that Moscow will certainly be able to seize the initiative. In their opinion, the year should show “how successful” the “tactics” chosen now will turn out to be.

So far, they only state that Russia has abandoned its former “strategic minimalism”, which was perceived in the West as weakness, and put forward maximalist demands for security guarantees. This “caught” the US and NATO by surprise and gave “an impetus to the negotiation process that we have not seen in decades.” The West had to seriously question “what are [its] true interests in relations with Russia” and whether it is ready to fight for them. At the same time, “the main risks of the West lie in the political plane – if the reliability of NATO’s containment of Russia is questioned, the question will arise about the effectiveness of US security guarantees to its allies,” and this will become “a shock for the EU and a signal for China,” Russian experts say.

While still not Kissinger …

Further in their report, they analyze the current situation in detail. They write about the dangerous “positional bargaining” around Moscow’s main demand – the non-expansion of NATO, including to Ukraine and Georgia; and refusing to advance the military infrastructure of the alliance to the Russian borders. They warn that if the bargaining fails, “the result could be a military clash,” but at the same time they admit that “if the parties manage to reach an agreement, relations between Russia and the United States may reach a plateau for some time.” Point by point, they consider “the conditions for reaching an agreement by Russia and the United States on security guarantees”, as well as “Russia’s resources in the scenario of aggravation of relations with the West”, “the risks of the West in the event of an aggravation of the crisis” and the stability of the regime of Vladimir Zelensky and in Ukraine.

Moreover, the study contains sections on bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, domestic and financial and economic policy of the United States, and finally, on Joe Biden’s personal national security assistant Jake Sullivan and his strategic plans. In my opinion, for one report in which all this takes up a good half of the text, this is still too much.

And the direct assimilation of Sullivan to the living classic of American geostrategy, Henry Kissinger, in general, it seems to me, is an exorbitantly generous advance. Yes, the 45-year-old presidential aide, who worked for Hillary Clinton in the past, has long been regarded in the US Democratic Party as something of a foreign policy prodigy and a rising star. Yes, American acquaintances confirmed to me that he strongly “pulls the blanket over himself” in interaction with Blinken, who is older in rank and age. But what fate awaits Sullivan’s strategic concepts, likening the UN to the ancient Parthenon and offering instead a situational “lace (latticework) of alliances, partnerships and institutions,” this is what my grandmother said in two.

Without a rudder and sails?

The new forecast of analysts from the New York-based Eurasia Group is focused on threats, or rather, political risks for the business, on whose orders the company, in fact, works. In the top ten of such risks for 2022, the team of the founder and head of the company, Ian Bremmer, included a section that is entirely devoted to Russia. But it is placed only in fifth place – after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the “techno-polar world”, the November midterm elections to the US Congress and “China’s household chores”.

In general, the report develops Bremmer’s favorite topic – the danger of the “Group Zero” (G-Zero), i.e. world without anyone’s recognized leadership. This year, according to overseas “Eurasians”, the United States and China will be mainly busy with their own internal affairs. This, in their opinion, is good, on the one hand, because it “reduces the likelihood of war”, but on the other hand, “it also means a weakening of global leadership and coordination”, which are “desperately needed” by the world community for a coordinated response to the main, according to analysts, the challenges of the year are pandemic and climate.

Encouragingly, “the lack of leadership caused by the retreat of the superpowers” is partially filled by the efforts of other actors – “less powerful countries, corporations, subnational governments and civil society,” the authors write. From their point of view, “something similar is happening in the” wild West “, which is now the digital space, increasingly controlled by quasi-sovereign technology firms.”

“But not every vacuum is being filled,” experts warn. “The geopolitical recession is turning many corners of the world – geographical and thematic – into a no man’s land. A global oversight will allow the brewing crises in Iran and Ukraine to become more explosive. in countries ranging from Myanmar and Afghanistan to Haiti, Venezuela and Ethiopia.”

In general, “in all these respects, zero leadership in 2022 will deepen,” the authors of the G-Zero concept say.

“Knife Edge”

As for Russia, they proceed from the fact that Washington and Moscow are now walking “on the edge of a knife” in their relations. What began last year with a gradual build-up of forces on the near approaches to Ukraine has transformed into a broader Russian demand for a restructuring of the European security architecture. In their view, all this “combined with ongoing concerns about election interference and cyberspace operations means that Russia is close to provoking an international crisis.”

True, the opinion of who provokes whom depends, of course, on the point of view of the beholder. It is clear that overseas the arrows are habitually translated to our country. And one can only rejoice at the fact that in this case there is neither rabid Russophobia nor excessive alarmism in the text.

“Diplomacy is likely to prevent military confrontation by focusing on areas where compromise is possible,” the New Yorkers predict. “Ukraine has no prospect of joining NATO, although neither the United States nor its NATO allies will publicly admit it. reach a tacit understanding on this matter. Agreement is also possible on other issues, including restrictions on arms transfers to Ukraine and on military exercises near Russian borders.”

“But how it will actually be is very difficult to predict (it’s a very close call),” admit Bremmer and his assistants. They fully admit that the described concessions may not suit Moscow, which, as you know, seeks written and legally binding security guarantees. And in the event of a “direct invasion of Ukraine,” Russia, according to their estimates, will face “at a minimum” a ban on the participation of individuals and legal entities in the United States in transactions with Russian sovereign debt. At the same time, “NATO forces will move their forward positions closer to Russia’s borders, escalating tensions to a level not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” they add.

Further, the Americans are considering a hypothetical scenario with Russia’s “official annexation” of Donbass to protect the population of the region from genocide. For some reason, they call such a development “less dramatic”, but at the same time point out that it “would be a shameful failure for the Biden administration and would cause a deep split in relations between the US and Europe.” Finally, analysts also mention “other risks associated with Russia” – from “interference in the midterm elections” in the United States to cyber attacks on key American infrastructure and revealing Moscow’s involvement in the appearance of symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome” in US civil servants abroad.

All these idle conjectures are not supported by anything and from the outside they look rather like grounds for possible anti-Russian provocations. By the way, as the NBC television company has just reported, the US CIA now excludes that the same “Havana syndrome” could be the result of targeted global efforts by some hostile US power. However, as already mentioned, the Eurasia Group’s report is addressed primarily to the business community, and they know from experience that new sanctions against Russia can be introduced for any reason, including “sucked up.”

The Americans conclude the Russian section of their forecast with a reminder that “Russia’s close relationship with China will serve as a growing cause for concern on the part of the United States.” “Any outbreak in the situation in Ukraine would most likely be accompanied by at least cases of China using its veto in the UN Security Council in favor of Moscow, and possibly more provocative Chinese military maneuvers in the South China Sea,” the “Eurasians” believe. in New York City.

With an eye on China

In general, by the way, if their report has a certain common leitmotif, then this is a constant look back at China, an assessment of its plans, intentions and prospects. In the text, references to China are almost three times more common than to Russia. Apparently, this is again dictated by concern for what interests the firm’s clients the most.

The assessments of overseas analysts are mostly expressed in critical tones. Thus, the only mention of the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing is accompanied by a reference to such “divisive issues” as “forced labor and human rights.” And so it is written – as if the problem is not in the violation of these very rights, but in themselves. It’s a shame to see how a basically noble concept turns into a worn-out propaganda cliché.

And the section on covid, which is the starting point for the entire US report, opens with this prediction: “We have dealt with the pandemic, but it is not with us yet. The finish line will depend on where you live. Critically, China’s zero-tolerance policy towards Covidu will fail.”

Explaining this confidence, the authors state that the population of the PRC “virtually has no antibodies to omicron”, i.e. a new, highly contagious strain of the virus. According to them, “after a two-year lockdown, it has become more dangerous to reopen the country”; the situation is “the opposite of what Xi [Jinping] would like to see before being re-elected for a third term, but there is nothing he can do,” as “the initial success [of the] zero covid [policy] and Xi’s personal commitment to it make a change of course impossible.” And, as a general conclusion: “The most successful policy to combat the virus turned out to be the least successful.”

However, in a separate section of the report devoted to China, the assessments are more moderate. The overall conclusion is that “US-China relations will not reach crisis levels this year, and domestic conditions in China will not undermine political stability in the country – and will not torpedo Xi’s bid for a historic third term.”

Russian specialists also mention China quite often in their forecast. The main two sections are devoted to “the transition to a model of irremovable power in the PRC” (according to MGIMO experts, this process should be completed this year) and “the likelihood of an escalation of the crisis around Taiwan” (it is assessed as low). If the approach seems to someone not complimentary enough, then everything is redeemed by a photograph in which Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping smile and shake hands. The caption indicates that the picture was taken after the extension of the Russian-Chinese friendship treaty.

” The Enemy Within “

Since I have always proceeded from the fact that recipes for foreign policy are prepared in the home political kitchen, for me, perhaps the most interesting thing in the American report was the assessment of the domestic political situation in the United States and the prospects for its development. It must be admitted that New Yorkers speak out on this subject in no uncertain terms.

“The United States is the most powerful country in the world: the only one capable of projecting military, economic, diplomatic and cultural power anywhere in the world,” they write in the preamble to their forecast. “It is also the most politically divided and dysfunctional [country], with the most economic disparity and the lowest vaccination rate of all industrialized G7 democracies.

The release of the report coincided with the first anniversary of the violent protest outside the walls of the US Congress, accompanied by the capture of the Capitol. According to the authors, in hindsight, this “biggest domestic political tragedy” of the United States is perceived as “a political battle that forms two completely different perceptions of political history by citizens who increasingly see domestic opponents as their main enemies.”

Towards ” stolen ” elections?

Of course, all this is directly projected onto the upcoming November elections. From the point of view of the authors, they will become “one of the most important in the history of the United States,” as they will be accompanied by mutual accusations of fraud on the part of the Democratic Party in power and the Republican opposition, and “will pave the way for the 2024 presidential election, in which Donald Trump, if he participates, either win outright or try to steal the victory.” Therefore, analysts believe that “this year’s vote in itself will not cause a crisis, but will become a historic turning point.”

The success of the Republicans in these midterm elections is “already predetermined,” say political analysts. Trump’s party will “almost certainly” regain control of the House of Representatives, “and potentially the Senate”; whatever the outcome, “tens of millions of Americans will consider the election results to be rigged.” 

As for the next presidential cycle, according to Bremmer and his colleagues, “if Trump wants to get his party’s nomination, then none of the Republicans has a real chance of preventing him from doing so.” And a new Trump presidency, in their view, “would not be the end of American democracy, but would bring with it a weakened and ineffective federal bureaucracy, mass civil disobedience in the United States, and a return to a confused, isolationist foreign policy.” At the same time, “the risk of a major (intentional or unintentional) global conflict would increase,” there would be a “deep and permanent weakening of America’s global positions.”

Trump’s defeat in the election, analysts warn, could lead to “even more deplorable consequences for the country, since [he] would not give up without a fight.” The crisis precedent of 1876 could be repeated, when the situation after the elections reached an impasse that had no legal constitutional solution and required a political compromise.

Moreover, experts warn that under certain circumstances, “the victory in the 2024 presidential election in the United States can be stolen and the country will have a president who is not elected by the electors.” “There is no legal mechanism in place to prevent such an outcome,” they add. As you know, the electoral system overseas is archaic, indirect and very complex.  

Of course, such a scenario is fraught with dire consequences for the United States. “A nationwide crisis of political legitimacy could spark domestic terrorism and lead to the creation of autonomous protest zones across the country,” the New Yorkers write. would be structurally dysfunctional.Secessionist movements would increase in places like California.Deeply and most likely preoccupied at home, the US would stop projecting influence abroad and open the door for Russia, China, and other countries willing to challenge the status -quo in the spheres of their fundamental national interests”.

Man proposes, God disposes

To be honest, even from purely Russian positions, such a prospect looks not so much tempting as frightening. Nobody needs cataclysms in one of the global nuclear powers. And the apocalyptic scenarios once again remind us that it is necessary to take care of strengthening the foundations of international security without delay and as thoroughly as possible. What, in fact, is what Russia is now calling for.

Forecasts, on the other hand, have the important advantage that they rarely come true. I judge this with confidence, because for decades I have been shoveling through all kinds of “forecast and analytical reports” on both sides of the Atlantic. That is why I am impressed even by the partial fulfillment of the plans announced from high tribunes. In my opinion, in Russia in recent years things have been generally better with this than in America.

So the studies of domestic and overseas “Eurasians” also lead me to the idea that a person proposes, but God disposes. True, our experts say that their last year’s forecasts were realized by 80-100%, and they were only half wrong with the composition of the new government coalition in Germany.

But, for example, in their previous report, the thesis that seemed to me the most interesting and important was that “what can be called a new non-aligned movement” is being formed in the world, moreover, with the leading role of Russia. And I have absolutely no impression that last year the ranks of those who want to dissociate themselves from both the United States and China with their confrontation grew. On the other hand, Bremmer’s favorite thesis of “geopolitical recession” is justified, in my opinion, only in terms of the continued steady weakening of Washington’s dominant position in the modern world.

In fact, forecasts, by and large, only outline the limits of what seems probable or even possible to their authors. And readers choose from the proposed versions those that seem to them the most convincing or simply prefer. For example, I would like to believe that MGIMO experts are right when they write that “they expect a lull in the Donbass, the Black Sea and the Baltic, at least while negotiations are underway on guarantees of Russia’s security from the United States and NATO.”

I think this option would be optimal for everyone. Let’s hope this prediction turns out to be accurate. Let us wait with interest for the new meeting between Putin and Biden promised by Blinken. But let’s not forget Yogi Berra’s warning about how difficult it is to look into the future.

Courtesy: (TASS)

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