Will the parties agree to a mutual aggravation
The closer the “week of negotiations” between Russia and the West, which starts on January 10 with the Russian-American meeting in Geneva, the sharper the tension from the expectation of its results … Intrigues were added by Vladimir Putin's statement that the response to the new tough US sanctions would be to sever relations with the United States. What does this mean?
The exit from the holiday period will be abrupt and, apparently, difficult for diplomats. Already on January 10, negotiations are scheduled between Russia and the United States at the level of representatives of the presidents of the states. Three days after that, a summit in the Russian-NATO format will take place, and the same week – a meeting under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
To ascertain the seriousness of each other's intentions (empty meetings, sometimes leading only to a new round of exacerbation, have already taken place enough), Presidents Putin and Biden on the night of December 31, initiated by the Kremlin, held a telephone conversation. The sudden conversation, among other things, turned into a very violent exchange of threats. Biden once again spoke about the need to de-escalate the Russian-Ukrainian border and the possibility of introducing new sanctions against Moscow if it goes to provocations. Putin, in turn, assured that the next sanctions package would lead to a complete rupture of relations with Washington.
The American leader did not follow such rhetoric to publicly develop the topic of anti-Russian sanctions, although in a conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky on the night of January 3, he again promised all-round support to Kiev in case of “Kremlin aggression”.
But other representatives of the American establishment seized on the mention of the new restrictions with the same enthusiasm. Thus, a group of former American diplomats and ex-high-ranking officials turned to the head of the White House with a demand to submit a specific list of possible measures “in case of an attack on Ukraine.” The Biden administration, however, is in no hurry to announce such a list. Such restraint speaks, rather, not of its absence, but of the understanding that it will not look logical in the light of the upcoming negotiations.
In addition, despite the rhetoric of the President of the United States, one should not forget that various political forces sometimes speak through his mouth, including the “hawks” from among the congressmen and heads of American departments. Biden may personally disagree with their aggressive stance, but he probably has to voice it too. Firstly, so as not to lose face, and, secondly, to get domestic political concessions from opponents in their country.
In general, this scenario corresponds to what happened during the second presidential term of Barack Obama, in which the current leader was the second figure. Then the Republican congressmen actually promoted their plans for military assistance to Ukraine through the president, including the supply of lethal weapons to Kiev. Their trump card was Obama's medical reform, which they braked with all their might in the absence of the “complaisance” of the owner of the White House.
But if Obama at least had a very wide corridor of opportunities for sanctions and formidable promises (the conflict in Donbass was just flaring up), then Biden's options are almost exhausted. Therefore, rushing with new anti-Russian restrictions is not in his hands: following this path, he will not leave himself any opportunity for further pressure, and everything will return to normal. Only now Moscow and Washington will have to “raise” bilateral relations from an even lower point than now.
Russia, quite obviously, understands this as well, deliberately raising rates and threatening, in the event of tough sanctions, a break in relations. That is, demonstrating a readiness for an extreme diplomatic measure. Even in the conditions of hostilities in 2008, diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tbilisi were severed on the Georgian initiative, but de facto ties at various levels remained. In political terms, Switzerland became the mediator, and various economic embargoes, transport bans, etc. were canceled or weakened in one way or another.
The consequences of the incident with the Russian Su-24M shot down by Turkey over Syria in November 2015 were not too serious and lasting.
Between the Russian Federation and the United States, there are no hostilities at all (although, in fairness, we note that there are regular reports of bilateral provocations at sea and in the air). Moreover, both countries are key participants in resolving a number of global problems. Thus, the situation in Syria directly depends on the position of both Turkey, which borders on it, and the supporting US Kurds and Russia recognizing President Bashar Assad.
Interaction between Moscow and Washington is the key to stability on the Korean Peninsula, where former President Donald Trump has made impressive progress, and the Kremlin has traditionally enjoyed trust.
Russia's participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – in the so-called “The nuclear deal with Iran is also an important factor. Moreover, the prospect of a return to the treaty of the American side could ease tensions in the Middle East.
Finally, the same Ukraine. Although Moscow does not consider itself a party to the conflict, and Washington does not participate in the “Normandy” negotiation format, everyone understands that any conversation about de-escalation in Donbass is critically dependent on the positions of the Kremlin and the White House.
Of course, of course, an extensive list of common problems is not a guarantee that the parties will not agree to mutual aggravation. It is also obvious that in both capitals they want clarity as soon as possible. It is no coincidence that Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov announced the possibility of another telephone conversation between Putin and Biden immediately following the meeting in Geneva on January 10.