Russia and the United States Must Cooperate to Achieve Their Own National Interests
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (16/1, Tsvetnoy Blvd, Moscow)
List of speakers

Several years ago, the Russian-American agenda shrank: there was nothing to talk about. Today it is returning, and this is already a sign of recovery, given the point of almost no return we came from. On 16 June, the Valdai Club held a discussion, where in real time - during the final press conferences of the presidents - the experts discussed the results of the Russian-American summit in Geneva.

Opening the discussion, Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, said that he was somewhat surprised by the degree of exaltation in anticipation of the Geneva meeting – it wasn’t the kind of fateful event that could change everything overnight. 

We were not on the brink of war, and there clearly have not been any dramatic changes in our relations. What was expected from the Russia-US summit, and how can the success of the negotiations be measured?

Dimitri Simes, CEO of the Center for the National Interest and publisher of The National Interest, noted that the Russian-American summit is not a meeting of friends: it featured no embrace or pretensions to warmth. Nevertheless, both presidents have arrived. Biden proposed this meeting, realising that not everyone would be happy with it, that there would be discrepancies and he would not be able to get everything he wanted. Putin accepted the offer despite the low level of relations and personal attacks on him.

William Pomerantz, Deputy Director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, recalled that Putin received a lot from Biden even before the meeting. Biden did not impose sanctions against Nord Stream 2, he did not focus on human rights, he did not criticise Russia in connection with the plane landing in Belarus, and he announced the postponement of Ukraine's entry into NATO. Of course, no one expected any breakthrough results from the Geneva summit, there would be no reset of relations, Pomerants stressed. The main task is to stabilise relations, with which all the experts of the Valdai discussion agreed.

Ivan Safranchuk, Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Center of Euroasian Research of the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO University, noted that in recent years relations have slipped to such a reinforced-concrete dead-end that they need a new impulse - moreover, coming from the highest level. The problem, according to Safranchuk, is that both in Washington and in Moscow there are professionals who are convinced that they are right and do not want to give up their positions. They all broadcast such things that it would be impossible to agree. To get things moving, the presidents must authorise a series of decisions that will help break the deadlock.

The most important thing, he said, is that the leaders' dialogue has taken place. The presidents had the opportunity to convey to each other that their basic positions are justified, and no one will refuse them. However, there are areas in which they can work. A good result of this summit was the agreement on the return of ambassadors to their diplomatic missions, a sign of a return to normal diplomatic life and normal dialogue.

In addition to diplomatic problems, the participants in the discussion identified several other areas in which negotiations and expert dialogue are needed - first of all, these include strategic stability and cybersecurity.

Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director and Research Fellow at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, said that the success of the Geneva summit would be the launch of broad Russian-American consultations on strategic stability, nuclear deterrence, and de-escalation measures. In principle, it was agreed to start such work. As for cybersecurity, he said, this is an area where unintentional clashes can occur. It is necessary to develop the rules of the game to prevent conflict. Suslov also stressed that the issues that Putin focused on after the negotiations with Biden do not require concessions. These are not issues on which Russia and the United States are cooperating in order to strengthen world peace - these are issues on which Russia and the United States must cooperate for the sake of their own respective national interests.

Ivan Safranchuk added that the aforementioned topics are undoubtedly indispensable in Russian-American relations. These are markers; without them there will be nothing. But there is more. Current disagreements and mistrust, suspicion, squabbles, hostility - all this stems from regional issues. Syria, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Eastern Europe - these are the places where Russian and American professionals clash, step on each other's heels, and then report to other nations about the other’s bad behaviour. This is a destructive factor in the relationship. It is clear that it will not be possible to take common positions, but dialogue on regional issues is also needed.

Answering Fyodor Lukyanov's question about whether the role of domestic politics in international relations has diminished, Safranchuk suggested that under the Biden Administration, internal issues will most likely leave the direct diplomatic dialogue, but since they are generally gaining more importance today, they will continue to influence foreign policy.

According to Robert Legvold, Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and Director of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, the Geneva summit is unusual and very important. Much was expected from it, but the important thing is that the meeting of the presidents really took place.

Today, as Legvold stressed, it is important for both countries to reduce the intensity of passions, especially at the level of rhetoric. It is necessary to change the very nature of the relationship in which there has been no mutual respect for a long time. It seems that this summit marked the beginning of the restoration of this respect.