Translated section of “Diplomatie mit einem Staat, dem man jeden Respekt verweigert” from GegenStandpunkt 3-21
A New Cold War
Respect Denied: On the Biden-Putin summit
Joe Biden has introduced new customs into the field of international understandings: First he dubs the head of the Russian Federation a “killer,” something that does not seem to be out of the ordinary given the media’s orgies of vilification, but is not exactly normal in dealings between heads of state who are not currently at war. Then the U.S. President proposed a summit to his Russian counterpart, but immediately ensured the correct understanding of this offer by enacting a series of tough sanctions against Russia and upholding the prospect of more.
This demonstration is meant to be seen as a corrective to the mistakes that Biden’s predecessor is said to have made in dealing with Russia. The style maintains the fable that the Democrats essentially used to go after their competition during the Trump presidency, that the latter was a product of Russian election manipulations and therefore in the service of Russia, a fable kept alive to this day even though political observers are well aware that Trump couldn’t seriously have been accused of deviating from the U.S. reason of state in this area. Contrary to Biden’s rendition, a fairly unbroken continuity was achieved under Trump in radicalizing the policy toward Russia. The new administration has seamlessly continued the serial reprisals adopted under its predecessor against the Russian Federation.
A jolt of new sanctions
America habitually announces decisions with the phrase “to make Russia pay a price for ...,” which gladly feigns a kind of equivalence between any random, or even merely alleged, Russian offense and retaliation by the USA, which, as the superintendent and judge of good behavior in the world of states, carries out the restoration of law and order by punishing wrongdoers. Dressing up attacks on an adversary in the form of a price is a metaphor for punitive justice that probably suits the American worldview. And this is the spirit in which the Biden administration announces from the get-go that it has plenty of “reasons” to decide on sanctions that can be used at will and mobilized at any time, so that in the future they can be virtually rolled off an assembly line: “Administration representatives also made it clear that the Navalny sanctions were only the first of several punitive measures taken by the Biden administration against ‘unacceptable behavior’ by the Russian leadership. They said the White House had ordered reports from intelligence agencies on four issues. In addition to the repression against Navalny and his supporters, the large-scale hacker attack against the software company Solarwinds, the bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the interference in the American elections would also be analyzed” (NZZ, 2.3.2021).
The package, adopted in April and explicitly praised as “sweeping” by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, takes aim at a wide variety of agents and instruments of Russian foreign policy: Sixteen organizations and sixteen individuals are sanctioned for allegedly having tried to influence the U.S. election – without a shred of legally tenable evidence. What matters is the caliber of the indictment: that Russia is alleged to have defiled democracy’s holiest of holies, the sovereign exercise of the people’s will. Property blockades and travel bans are extended to individuals in Russia’s technology and defense sectors, to materially related Russian industries or any other economic sectors engaged in so-called malicious activities or belonging to a “malign” organization operating on behalf of the Russian government; including “disinformation outlets” such as the Russian equivalent to the Goethe Institute. In addition, there are sanctions against six Russian technology companies whose products also equip Russian intelligence agencies, against companies that enable cyber and information operations and supply military and dual-use technologies, and sanctions against the mercenaries of the Russian Wagner Group.
Topping it all off, the Biden administration then issued sanctions directly targeting the Russian state’s borrowing capacity, its access to the world financial market: U.S. banks are prohibited from buying Russian treasury bonds on the primary market, as will other forms of lending to Russian government entities. The claim that the effect will be very limited because the great mass of these securities is solely in Russian hands is rather an indication of the opposite, that is, how far the attack on the Russian state’s debt capacity has already progressed as a result of the ongoing sanctions policy; the fact is that the international financial world has long since been effectively deterred and the Russian state’s borrowing has essentially been reduced to the capacity of its domestic market, as has the radius of action of the holders of such securities. The attack on the use of the world financial market is an attack on the very means of growth which Russia is to be cut off from, while its other means of raising money on the world market have long been under attack by the U.S.: Arms exports are already sanctioned - see the current U.S. disputes with major Russian customers such as Turkey and India, which Washington wants to ban from purchasing Russian-made defense components; Russian energy exports are being fought – see Nord Stream 2 – as well as the world market business of its six most important IT companies.
But this opening of a new stage in the economic war against Russia should be understood and appreciated by the world public – as Biden explains – as “proportionate”: “I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so, to be — I chose to be proportionate. The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.” (whitehouse.gov, 4/15/2021). So the course of the summit was already set from the beginning.
Hostilities also must be nurtured and the respective gradations balanced, as many refusals are granted to the opponent when it is harnessed to one’s own interests, so (non-)recognition of the other side is dosed in each case. In this sense, the U.S. Makes it clear to anyone who wants to know, i.e. especially Republican-dominated political circles in the United States, that it will give Vladimir Putin the absolutely necessary minimum of recognition in Geneva: no shared meal, no shared press conference, just handshakes and a few hours face-to-face; from the point of view of a large faction in the United States, including Trump, all this is already far too much of a concession. The participating media, in its habitual manner of measuring the statesmanship of leaders by their successes, is therefore not very surprised that the summit is said to have produced “few results,” thus ignoring its essential content.
The U.S.A.: exceptional
As Joseph Biden reported at the subsequent press conference, he took the summit meeting with his Russian counterpart as an opportunity to explain to him the U.S. human condition: “I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else; it’s for the American people ... I also told him that no President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country. ... It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights; it’s about who we are.” (Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference, 6/16/2021).
Basically, the United States has nothing against Russia, just as it has nothing against anyone else in the world. Its agenda is not determined by the pursuit of petty interests in competition with other nations and the denial of others theirs; rather, the United States refers to itself alone in what it does. If it declares Russia to be an illegitimate state and executes this judgment, then this has nothing to do with Russia in the first place, because the U.S. owes this to itself alone – to its great people, their values and their uniqueness. According to Biden, in the U.S.A., state and people are united in this solipsism: The fact that they impose an “order” of “universal rights” and “democratic values” on the rest of the world is not due to any political intention, nor is it declared a good right, but ranks much higher and is more irrefutable – the mandate for this is simply in American genes! The USA, as the incarnation of universal human values, can’t therefore function any differently than as an overseer, judge, and executor of a world order based on its people’s nature – everything, all the way up to working on the overthrow of the Russian state via Alexei Navalny and his consorts, comes from the genes which the Pilgrim fathers unleashed on nature and the Indians. And the Russian has to swallow that – period!
Russia: simply disgraceful
Biden refuses to answer the critical questions from the journalists as to why he did not dish it out properly to the Russian and explains that he did not have to descend to the level of an ugly argument. As the ambassador of this great American idea, he made a much more commanding performance by showing his Russian colleague that his country is a disgrace to humanity and is discrediting itself with its unworthy behavior. He himself would be deeply ashamed to lead a nation that had to be reproached like this: “How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries, and everybody knew it?”
It’s ok to laugh. The President’s equation of U.S. imperialism with a natural law of unlimited state-moral superiority has evidently worked him up so much that he simply forgets how thoroughly Washington ensures that the establishment of rule worldwide takes place in its interests.
Cheerily jumbling imperialist stature, inter-governmental recognition, political credibility, and moral integrity, the U.S. President expects that it is hopeless for Russia to try to salvage some of its world significance. The fact that Russia fails in this endeavor – which the U.S. guarantees, because it does everything in its power to make it so! – discredits this effort and with it the state power that does not want to let it go. Its failure proves that it does not deserve the respect it claims. The message is clear: And somebody like this wants to have a say, to make claims, to see his interests taken into account! Biden doesn’t want to stop: “When you run a country that does not abide by international norms, and yet you need those international norms to be somehow managed so that you can participate in the benefits that flow from them, it hurts you.”
Yet everything started so beautifully, as Biden recalls. He reports on a “shining moment,” namely the ten years under Boris Yeltsin, “shining” above all for the United States, because during this period the complete collapse of the Soviet state power, its legacies, and the conditions for all civilian reproduction took place. In Washington’s eyes, this was a great moment for democracy in which Russia could almost be promised recognition as a decent member of the family of nations. But then, alas, came Putin, whose decision to have a “strong government” put Russia on the wrong track: “I think he decided that the way for Russia to be able to sustain itself as a great — quote, “great power” is to in fact unite the Russian people on just the strength of the government... But I do think it does not lend itself to Russia maintaining itself as one of the great powers in the world.”
Biden’s lesson from history is that world power can’t be achieved with “too much strength of government” and “government controls,” and that its decline is inevitable. In this analysis, the U.S. policy of encirclement and sanctions has at most the significance of a little assistance in withdrawing the great power from competition. This all obviously still strikes U.S. journalists as misplaced soft-pedaling; they miss the threats standard for the world power – “There were no threats issued?” – and Biden tells them again, “No, no, no. There were no threats ...You know how I am: I explain things based on personal basis. ‘What happens if,’ for example. And so, there are no threats, just simple assertions made. … It was just letting him know where I stood; what I thought we could accomplish together; and what, in fact — if it was — if there were violations of American sovereignty, what would we do.”
Need for Understanding
Biden’s depiction of the summit with a demeanor of total superiority marks the degree of U.S. consciousness of right and power, the standpoint of unrivaled, absolute world power: The U.S. treats Russia as a disruption in its world order that needs to be dealt with, it revokes its license, as it were, and commits the rest of the world of states to its definition of the enemy – and it allows itself to act in a way that is not tainted by any doubts that it is already as good as done with Russia; that it virtually does away with itself, due to its systemic weaknesses and wrong polarity.
This picture is not entirely true. After all, the U.S. world power is doing a lot to make it come true. And with everything that it is doing, it obviously still cannot get past Russia; that’s the only reason – because it has to settle a few things with this power – such a summit takes place. Russia is still the power that, to the annoyance of the U.S. world power, possesses in its nuclear arsenal the means to assert itself. In this respect, Biden’s appearance has the character of a clarification to all those who doubt the determination of the U.S. government to put Russia in its place and degrade it as a power, not least to the Americans at home who accuse Trump’s successor of weakness in enforcing U.S. interests and U.S. law in the world and interpret his willingness to hold a summit as caving in to Russia. No one should be mistaken, certainly not the Russians: the U.S.A. will not be deterred and will not be persuaded to coexist peacefully with Russia – even if Biden has put China first.
The summit produced exactly one document signed by both sides, significantly: the reaffirmation of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1985 joint statement: “We reaffirm today the principle that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged.” It is good to hear that both sides, who since the times of Reagan and Gorbachev have obviously wanted to maintain this weaponry at all costs and have since worked with great success to improve it, solemnly promise humanity that they remain convinced of the futility of using it.
In any case, it is the Russians’ achievements in this area, perfecting the means for this war, that prompted Biden’s summit offer: “I’m pleased that he agreed today to launch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue – diplomatic speak for saying, get our military experts and our diplomats together to work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”
After decades in which the U.S. declared that existing arms control treaties with the Soviet Union’s legal successor were superfluous, effectively undermined or terminated them, in which the U.S. under Barack Obama found it useful to renovate the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile agreement, the new administration is calling for the start of new negotiations. Contrary to Biden’s demeanor that the U.S. has this enemy under control, precisely because Russia has “new, dangerous and sophisticated weapons,” the U.S. feels compelled to recognize that the strategic showdown with Russia is entering a new stage, and thus Russia has to return to the negotiating table.
Secondly, Biden brings up another matter that he discusses with his Russian counterpart – “cyber and cybersecurity”: “I gave them a list .. 16 specific entities; 16 defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy, from the energy sector to our water systems.... I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant. And if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”
Leaving aside the presidentially stupid style in which Biden announces once again that it was he who sovereignly instructed his counterpart and drew red lines – the balance of power looks different: Both sides have potencies in the field of cyber warfare with which they can inflict damage on a national scale on each other entirely without using their conventional weapons. Both assure each other in their own way that, if necessary, they will not shy away from collapsing the infrastructure of the other nation or wreaking havoc in other ways. And it is precisely this new matter that they now want to rededicate to the civilizing achievement of arms diplomacy, the masterpiece of a confidence-building understanding about the mutual means of destruction.
Thirdly, in yet another area, the U.S. president has had to acknowledge that there is a certain need for understanding because of the conflicts in which powers with far-reaching strategic interests clash: Russia is active in relevant parts of the world as a military power and with claims to world order. Negotiations are needed on Syria, Iran, the Arctic, and Afghanistan.
What makes the U.S. president confident is the circumstance that this strategic enemy is economically insignificant in comparison with the U.S., a circumstance that is due not least to the actions of Washington, which is doing everything it can to make it impossible for Russia to tap sources of its power. Russia, which has been incorporated into international capitalism and made dependent on the world market, is being denied this means of existence, and its exclusion from the world financial markets is being pursued with some success, in order to deprive it of the economic basis for its unwanted posturing as a world power. All this is done in the hopeful expectation of regime change, a civilian disarmament of Russia with Putin finally giving in, or – also due to suitable effects on the people's morality, see Navalny – being swept away by his dissatisfied people. This is a type of warfare; it’s not for nothing that political observers speak of “economic warfare,” but at the same time it should be understood as completely “proportionate,” as so reasonably dimensioned and justified that nobody, including Russia, can really argue with it.
When Biden announces on another occasion that Russia is to be regarded as a danger precisely for this reason, there is a logic to it: Russia is seen as a state that is being pushed further and further into a corner and faced with the alternative of giving up or resorting to the last means in the fight for its self-assertion – and these are precisely the military means with which it is amply equipped. This is the situation that has prompted the U.S. government to issue the slogan “stability and predictability,” the imperialist ideal of a measured, continuous damage to the enemy, in which one has the other side with its possible reactions under control.
Barely back in Washington, Biden’s security advisor Jake Sullivan announces: “We are preparing another package of sanctions” (de.rt.com, June 20, 2021). The Russian ambassador to the U.S. expresses his severe disappointment in this announcement: “That was not the signal that came out of the Geneva summit” (DW, June 20, 2021). He also has to report that the harassment of Russian diplomats in the USA is continuing.
President Biden, in turn, refers to the summit as a highly one-sided event at which he claims to have gotten various promises from Russia: “We will see whether the Russians keep what they have promised and pledged” (DLF, 17.6.2021) – even though nothing was said about promises. On this occasion, Biden then sees fit to acquaint his fellow Americans with the fact that in today’s pre-war era, the chances of a “real shooting war” are not at all remote: “The president also made a disturbing prediction about the increasing cyberattacks on the United States. Biden said he believes there is an increasing likelihood that the United States could end up in a real shooting war with a great power as a result of a cyberattack” (Voice of America, 7/27/2021). Shooting, as we know, is also part of America’s DNA.