It began with the news that 400 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals had gathered over the weekend in Moscow for a Viennese-style ball — maskless and socially un-distanced — even as Coronavirus cases in the country continue their unabated climb.
By the end of the day, farce had given way to tragedy, as the Russian Prosecutor General announced it was declaring Bard College — a US liberal arts school, which has a mini-campus in St. Petersburg — an “undesirable organization”, meaning that all foreign professors and students will be barred from Russia, while any Russian citizens who maintain a relationship with the institution could face up to six years in prison.
So, Geneva went more or less the way I expected it to: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin shook hands, exchanged unpleasantries, agreed to have their people get in touch with their other people, and moved on. In other words, the summit was a resounding success.
But seriously, what was the point?
On the genuine diplomatic front, there were some genuine wins:
According to the FT’s global vaccine tracker, some 32.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have made their way into the shoulders of Russian citizens — or just 22.7 per 100 residents. By comparison, the UK has administered 106.8 doses per 100, the US 93.2.
By any measure, that has to be a disappointing result, not least for a country that has a reasonably well functioning medical system and had an approved Covid-19 vaccine available months before anyone else in the world. But for once, at least, I’m not convinced the Kremlin should take the blame.
I was struck by this excerpt from Vladimir Putin’s pre-summit interview with NBC, for two reasons: Because of how well Kier Simmons did to get an answer, and because of how much better it might have been, had he done a little bit more homework.
Cornwall is lovely this time of year, but it ain’t Geneva. And Boris Johnson? Well, he’s no Vladimir Putin.
Even as Joe Biden, on his first trip abroad, arrived for the G7 summit here in England and signed a renewed ‘Atlantic Charter’ with the UK, all anyone seemed to want to talk about was his meeting next week with Putin. And that’s understandable: We know what to expect from Johnson and the G7, but a powwow with Putin is a bit of a cat in a bag.
The uncertainty of that meeting hasn’t stopped a number of commentators from being very, very sure that it’s a very, very bad idea, so when I spoke to ABC TV (Australia) about it earlier today — see the video via the link below — I attempted to temper that a bit, making (or trying to make) the following points:
While we are not in a new Cold War, we are reverting to a Cold War-era style of summitry.
Biden will talk about Navalny, about Ukraine, about Novichok and maybe even about election interference — and he should talk about all of those things — but it won’t make a difference.
For all the negatives, the upcoming summit has the potential to lay the groundwork for a process that will prevent the world from becoming a more dangerous place — and that’s a good thing.
After four years of Democrats outstripping Republicans in “tough on Russia” rhetoric, the “Russia hawk” shoe is finally back on the (*ahem*) right foot.
Predictably, the news that the Biden Administration would back off its threat to sanction German and other European companies who engaged in the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project met with howls of indignation from Republicans:
По следам недавней лекции в Университете Гента, Женя Альбац пригласили поговорить с замечательными Мишель Берди и Денисом Волковым на тему “авторитарного гражданство”. Жалко, конечно, что так мало, можно было бы и продолжить. Но отмечу один очень важный момент: я не говорю (и никогда бы не говорил!) ни об “авторитарных гражданах”, ни об “авторитарном человеке”. Наоборот, я пытаюсь осмыслить “гражданство” в авторитарном контексте. Получилось ли осмыслить – судите сами!
There’s an adage in political science that you shouldn’t predict the future if you’re likely to live long enough to see it. It’s a good maxim, and while I generally try not to break it, I sometimes fail.
One of those times was back in November 2018, when I looked at the combination of economic and political challenges facing Vladimir Putin, the options on his menu, and tried to predict what he’d do. Looking back, I was right about most things, but wrong about one. I wish I hadn’t been.