Topics for New Year’s Eve Conversation between Putin and Biden

The Presidents of Russia and the United States see off 2021 with an unexpected telephone conversation

Suddenly, the end of the outgoing 2021 turned out to be active for Russian-American relations. No sooner had political scientists assess the extensive negotiating plan outlined by Moscow and its Western partners for January, when Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his desire to hold a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Joe Biden a day before the New Year. The conversation is scheduled for Thursday at 23:30 Moscow time. We asked experts to assess the symbolic and practical significance of the New Year's Eve conversation.

Photo: AP

The initiator of the conversation, according to the press President's Secretary Dmitry Peskov, became Vladimir Putin.

Despite the pandemic and the fact that the current American President Joe Biden took office only in early 2021 – and turned out to be harsher towards his Russian counterpart than his predecessor Trump – the intensity of contacts between Moscow and Washington has slightly diminished. The owners of the Kremlin and the White House managed to meet in person in Geneva in June, and in early December the presidents held a two-hour online conversation.

Emily Horn, spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, told CNN that one of the topics the two presidents will be talking about will be “future diplomatic contacts” between the United States and Russia. According to her, Joe Biden agreed to a telephone conversation with President Putin, because “he believes that when it comes to Russia, direct dialogue between leaders is indispensable.”

and the American Security Assurance Delegation in Geneva. Our delegation is to be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and the US delegation by First Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

According to some political analysts, Russia, despite the agreements on multi-format meetings with high-ranking representatives of the United States, NATO and the OSCE in January, already now wants to make sure that they have prospects, and will not turn into a routine “synchronization of watches”.

“It seems to me that the urgency of the conversation on December 30 is connected with the desire of the Russian side to avoid dragging out the negotiations indefinitely,” said expert on international relations Vladimir Frolov … – And Putin apparently wants to focus Biden's attention on some important things on which immediate progress is needed already in Geneva on January 10.

The expert also allows “New Year's gifts” from one of the parties: “Not I exclude any strong gesture by Putin towards Biden, in particular, the decision to release the Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed (the former is accused of espionage in Russia, the latter of an attack on a policeman. – MK ) in exchange, for example, for the pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko (he is serving time in the US on charges of involvement in drug trafficking. – “MK” ) “.

However, even such gestures will not be able to solve major bilateral problems.

“Moscow is worried that the Americans do not want to negotiate directly on the package of problems as a whole, but simply want to isolate from there the topics on which negotiations are possible (everything related to military activities and the deployment of weapons) – and ignore those issues on which negotiations are impossible : non-expansion of NATO and refusal of military assistance to Kiev, – Vladimir Frolov recalled. – The United States also wants to begin de-escalation on the border with Ukraine, but it is unlikely that Putin will go for it without understanding the vision of some further result. Of course, in this regard, the Ukrainian topic will be the main one, but Iran and the JCPOA may also be affected (Joint Comprehensive Action Plan – the so-called “nuclear deal” with Tehran – “MK” ). The day before, in Vienna, the Russian and American ambassadors met on this score: the positions of the parties on this issue practically coincide. ” that the main point of the conversation between Putin and Biden is the confirmation of all the preliminary agreements on the January talks.

“The United States is now expressing its commitment to all these events and its readiness to de-escalate in the Ukrainian direction,” the expert comments on the announced telephone conversation between the two presidents. – In Washington, the withdrawal of Russian troops did not go unnoticed, and at the moment the White House may take an initiative to put pressure on Kiev in order to reduce tensions in Donbass. One of the main goals of the current process is to exclude military provocations during the negotiations. If we look at the whole process in retrospect, we will notice that, along with diplomatic efforts, it is the military factor that has always played an essential role. Today, as I see it, the parties want to finally leave it out of brackets, solving problems exclusively at the negotiating table. ”

Meanwhile, a high-ranking White House source told the German DPA agency that the speech in a telephone conversation between Biden and Putin will refer to the events around Ukraine, and the American president intends to make it clear to his Russian counterpart that in the event of a military invasion of Ukraine by the United States and their allies face tough sanctions against the economy and financial sector.

The Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, in turn, assured that the telephone conversation between Putin and Biden scheduled for late December 30 evening would not affect the talks announced on January 10 and would not cancel them. According to the first vice-president of the Center for Political Technologies, professor at the Higher School of Economics Alexei Makarkin, the very emergence of the question of whether the leaders' conversation can affect future bilateral negotiations is very revealing and once again proves that the priorities of Moscow and Washington are very different.

“The parties have different approaches,” the analyst emphasized in a conversation with MK. – What does Russia intend to do regarding the outcome of the 2008 Bucharest NATO summit on the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to the Alliance? Moscow opposed this, but was this an ultimatum or a requesting position? The ultimatum is accepted to the last comma. If it is rejected, then it is also essentially completely. If this is a request position, then the document can be discussed. As far as I understand, this is exactly how it is now.

But the positions of the parties are still far away. For the United States, it is unacceptable to decide not to admit someone to NATO, Russia also needs to fix its “red lines”. There is also room for compromises: this is a discussion of the deployment of specific types of weapons, the conduct of certain exercises. ”

Under these conditions, the expert reminds, it is important to find a corridor for dialogue and combine some priorities.

“There were a number of online meetings at different levels, some other events that we we will find out in a few years, but the negotiating agenda now needs to be finalized. And, taking into account all the factors, it seems that this problem can be solved only at the presidential level. It is important that on January 10 the parties have something to talk about, so that the meeting is productive and does not end with a quarrel or endless dragging out of the process by the United States, which Russia fears. And it is precisely the agreement on the agenda that Putin and Biden will try to achieve during the conversation, “concludes Makarkin.


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