Martin Schram: Can Putin rethink the legacy?
Let’s start our instant analysis of last week’s Biden-Putin summit not with the news headline, but with the gist:
The instantaneous analysis of this Geneva summit is that there can be no instantaneous analysis. Not yet. But much to the surprise of a bewildered body of experts, history may well conclude that while President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have produced no news headlines, this summit could turn out to be to prove to be one of the key events of the 21st century.
We may find out soon. As Biden told reporters and the world after the summit ended:
âWhat’s going to happen next is we’re going to be able to look backâ¦ in three to six months and say, ‘The things that we agreed to sit down and try to solve, did they work? â¦ Are we closer to major strategic stability? ‘ â¦ This will be the test.
This will be Putin’s test. And here’s how it happened: Biden and Putin created two joint task forces – one, to end the threat of global cyber attacks that could be the nuclear weapons of the new era; the other to reduce the ever-threatening risk posed by old nuclear arsenals.
Creating task forces might seem like boring bureaucratic news, but it could turn out to be very positive, as it means that American and Russian officials will work together again.
Plus, not only is Putin’s test, but he knows the pass / fail one-word answer: âStop! “
US experts are convinced that Putin had to approve of the two recent ransomware cyber attacks in the United States in which Russian-based criminals shut down a major US pipeline and a major US meat producer. Additionally, US intelligence agencies announced long ago that Putin personally endorsed the massive cyber sabotage of the 2016 and 2020 US presidential campaigns.
The key moment of the Geneva summit may well have been the threat which was not a moment of threat. When discussing cyber attacks, Biden calculatedly toppled Putin.
“I spoke about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be closed to attack – period,” Biden told reporters. ââ¦ I gave them a listâ¦ 16 specific entitiesâ¦ defined as critical infrastructures according to American policy, from the energy sector to our water supply systemsâ¦
âWhen I talked about the (oil) pipeline that cyber hit for $ 5 million – this ransomware hit the United States – I looked at it and I said, ‘Well, how would that feel? you know if ransomware took over your oilfield pipelines? ? ‘ He said it would be important. It is not just a matter of our personal interest; it is a mutual interest. (Remember: the late John McCain once called Russia a “gas station masquerading as a country.”)
On Thursday morning, a TV interviewer asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to summarize Biden’s performance at the top. âI thought it wasâ¦ a master class in diplomacy,â she said. “You have to put yourself in the shoes of the other person sitting across from you, so you knowâ¦ what they want.”
Exactly. Now, Putin may find it useful to rethink a grand plan he once had to make Russia a major player in the global economy – and how he nearly got there. Until, in a fit of anger, he messes things up for himself and Russia.
I called it Putin’s two-step Sochi. Russia was economically stressed and isolated from the global economy before 2014, when Putin almost pulled off a brilliant but risky bet: (1) Putin spent a fortune to make Sochi the site of the February 2014 Winter Olympics, winning worldwide fame. (2) Putin, as the rotating G-8 chairman, also arranged for Sochi to host the group’s economic meeting later in June – and he planned to use Russia’s newfound respect to attract more huge international companies and investors.
But instead, after the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine accepted new trade ties with Europe, rejecting Russia. Putin saw this as a national disgrace. Enraged, he seized the Crimea militarily. Of course, the G-8 canceled their Sochi meeting, kicked Russia out and renamed themselves G-7. Russia’s economy has suffered since, made worse by Putin’s outright militarism and cyberattacks.
This week, Biden deftly maneuvered Putin into a win-win position he could never have captured militarily: a chance that may allow Russia to re-enter the global economy and win the rest of us a measure of peace.
Now, Putin needs to thoroughly rethink what he wants his legacy to be.