The Biden-Putin Summit was quite different from a Trump-Putin confab. For one thing, there was no one-on-one meeting where U.S. officials didn’t have any idea what our President had said or been told by Putin. Moreover, this one had the atmosphere of two world leaders realistically discussing a variety of issues that one or both of them were concerned about. Prior to their meeting, Putin had said of Biden, compared to Trump, “That’s a different kind of person, and it is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but that there will not be any impulse-based movements on the part of the sitting U.S. president.” he said. Gee, I wonder which recent U.S. President he viewed as impulsive.
The Trump-Putin meetings, as many have stated, had the feel of an employee review by a very demanding boss. The image of Putin strutting cockily out of his private meeting with Trump in Helsinki, with the latter tagging along with a sheepish, hangdog expression on his face, was an utter embarrassment for the United States, and makes it impossible for any reasonable person to take seriously the ludicrous Fox News/Republican talking points that Trump was strong with Putin and Biden looks weak by comparison.
In fact, Trump was putty in Putin’s hands, dutifully agreeing with the former KGB operative that he had not interfered in the 2016 U.S. Election — despite considerable evidence to the contrary, and the unanimous assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies — based solely on the fact that Putin “strongly denied it.” Trump, who usually demands sycophantic praise from others, instead displayed over-the-top obsequiousness to Putin.
Putin, no doubt, regarded his investment in Trump to be a sound one that paid significant dividends, watching in delight as Trump trashed U.S. allies and our economic and defense alliances like NATO and G-7. However, Putin may have been startled and chagrined to find that these alliances could be repaired in short order by a professional statesman with experience on the world stage, as Biden developed a genuine rapport with the leaders of our major allies, and worked with them to reach consensus on a number of economic, defense, and humanitarian matters such as Ukraine, China, minimum corporate tax rate, and distribution of COVID vaccine to less fortunate countries.
Accordingly, Putin assessed Biden to be “a balanced and professional man, and it’s clear that he’s very experienced.” He also acknowledged that his meeting with Biden was “constructive,” observing that “the meeting was actually very efficient.” According to Putin, “It was substantive, it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust.”
For his part, Biden, although certainly optimistic that his brand of personal diplomacy could make a difference, was guarded in public about his expectations, bristling when a reporter claimed he had said he was confident that Putin would change. In fact, Biden often said “time will tell” if Putin will change for the better, recognizing that change is based on perceived self-interest. Therefore, Biden emphasized the need for concerted action by other world leaders in order to make any progress with Putin. In this regard, he is very different from Trump, who truculently eschewed international cooperation under the guise of “America First” – even when alliances could help bring about policies that benefitted America.
All in all, Biden brought civility, not servility, to his meeting with Putin, and quiet strength, not bombastic weakness. It was quite a change from The Former Guy.