ANALYSIS - Cold war or war of nerves between Biden, Putin
At core of increasingly heated rivalry lies fact that US, with its 2 rivals, breaks down paradigms it built when ending Cold War
The writer is a journalist who writes on Turkish foreign policy.
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are preparing for the second round of their dialogue in the shadow of new geopolitical tests raised by the global economy and the COVID-19 pandemic before the end of 2021. However, as the meeting, the date of which is not yet clear, approaches, the conditions are much less promising compared to the first meeting held on June 16 in Geneva.
Dark clouds cover their relationship in 5 months
The most important difference between the first meeting between the parties and the second one is that the planned second meeting will be held via video conferencing, not face-to-face. During the first meeting, strategic stability, the control of nuclear weapons, common policies to be followed against cyberattacks for ransom, human rights violations in the context of pressure on the opposition in Russia, and ongoing conflicts on the eastern border of Ukraine were the topics discussed. In the intervening five months, some of these titles have decayed in importance, some have changed content, and new titles have been added to the agenda.
At the second scheduled meeting between the leaders of the two countries, topics set to be covered include NATO's eastward progress measures against Russia, a Russian force of 100,000 on the border with Ukraine, NATO’s increasing activities in the Black Sea, asymmetric and hybrid threats targeting NATO and the EU with a weapon of mass migration through Belarus, and the threat by hypersonic missiles. Issues such as Russia's experiments with anti-satellite weapons systems in Earth’s orbit, Russia's decision to produce S-550 air defense missiles, the content of which is not yet fully known, and the military alliance being built between China are expected to come to the fore as well. The AUKUS alliance, built by the US-UK-Australia triad in the Indo-Pacific region, will inevitably be questioned by Russia about Anglo-Saxon plans for the establishment of structures similar to this alliance on the Black Sea-Baltic Sea line.
The last dialogue on the planning of the meeting was held on Nov. 17 between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev. The day after the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Patrushev and Sullivan discussed developments in Ukraine, the situation on the Belarusian border, and cybersecurity issues. Peskov stressed that this meeting “is a preparation for higher-level talks.”
Russia raises tensions after Geneva talks
The developments after the June 16 Geneva meeting demonstrate that the first meeting between Biden and Putin consisted of checking each other's intentions, and all the steps taken after that have turned into a test aimed at weighing the borders, straining the nerves. Putin's thesis that “Russian and Ukrainian citizens are one nation” in an article written in July immediately after the meeting was indicative of Moscow's resolute stance against NATO's advance to the east. After Putin, this time Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister and now deputy chair of Russia’s State Security Council, took the stage. Medvedev, in a column for the Kommersant daily in October, called Ukraine a “weak country dependent on its masters in overseas countries, its American bosses,” and said, “We do not make deals with vassal [dependent] rulers,” referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the process that followed, the Russian navy's testing of Zircon hypersonic missiles that are reportedly capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound, the destruction of a former Soviet satellite orbiting the Earth with an ASAT weapon, and the announcement that it would begin production of S-550 missiles were other steps that tested the US in this nerve war. The S-550 missiles, which are understood to be against attacks from outer space, are considered a new step that takes nuclear deterrence into space, as well as ensuring the control of nuclear weapons between superpowers. But the improvements have not been limited to these.
The introduction of the weapon of mass migration through Belarus and the dispatch of 100,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine were also not left unanswered by the EU and the US. The US sent 80 tons of ammunition to Ukraine, while Belarus faced new sanctions. We are going through a process where the parties produce new moves every week or even every day that will press each other's nerve endings. The decommissioning of the permanent representation of Russia to NATO on Nov. 1, the closure of its office, and the announcement that another 27 Russian diplomats will leave the US on Jan. 30 were signs that the gap between the parties has deepened and the doors for dialogue will be reduced.
Russia, China to boost military cooperation
One of the issues that most made Biden and his team think about before the second meeting should undoubtedly be the memorandum reached on Nov. 23 between the defense ministers of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China aimed at improving the military relations of the two countries. The document signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and the Defense Minister of the People's Republic of China, Wei Fenghe, stipulates that “strategical exercises and joint patrol activities of both army elements will be increased” between the parties. Also, Shoigu made it clear that the memorandum they signed is a measure taken against the activities of the US Strategic Air Forces capable of carrying nuclear weapons concentrated near the borders of Russia. The defense memorandum signed by the two countries means that between 2021 and 2025, nuclear-capable air and naval elements of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and the Russian army will appear more in the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Indo-Pacific region.
The content of the meeting between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping via video conference on Nov. 15, which has been published in the press to date, also confirmed that the parties “have agreed on issues that they cannot agree on so far.” The steps taken by China after this meeting also undermine optimistic expectations about the Putin-Biden meeting.
The overall landscape between the three superpowers suggests that the US will continue to exert pressure on Russia through Ukraine by using NATO, and simultaneously on China by using Taiwan.
US changes paradigms with its own hands
At the heart of the increasingly heated tripartite competition lies the fact that the US, with its two rivals, has broken the paradigms it built when ending the Cold War. The 1972 visit to China of then-US President Richard Nixon was the end of his own Cold War from the point of view of Beijing. With this visit, the US ended its support for Taiwan, while the UN process leading up to China's permanent membership in the Security Council had begun. Nixon's move also decriminalized Moscow, formalizing the gap between China and the USSR already in the communist camp. As for the US-USSR dimension of the issue, the roots of the issue date back to the meetings of Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR of the time, with US Secretary of State James Baker and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Feb. 9-10, 1990. Gorbachev and the Kremlin's claims are that the US and Federal Germany were promised in these negotiations that NATO would not spread eastward. However, with the admission of three former Warsaw Pact members -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- to NATO membership in 1999, this promise, based on Gorbachev's claim, also ceased to be valid. The Kremlin's response to this move at that time was that the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Vladimir Putin, was first promoted to prime minister in August 1999 and then to head of state on New Year's Eve with the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin at that time.
As can be seen, the fact that the US broke down the paradigms that put an end to the Cold Wars on both fronts on its own initiative brought the world to the brink of the “Second Cold War,” according to some, and according to others, this threshold has already been crossed. The international community, tested by crises consisting of the supply crisis, the energy crisis and the side effects of COVID-19, will travel like the passenger of an airplane decoupling from turbulence to turbulence in the process of creating new balances between superpowers before it has the opportunity to take off its belt. The most optimistic expectation of the Biden-Putin summit will be that the leaders, who are obviously unable to reach a compromise, will balance the course by setting the rules of the new Cold War.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
*Writing by Merve BerkerAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.