Next week, shortly after the G7 meetings end, President Biden will meet with Vladimir Putin in Switzerland. This past week, I think it was AL, inquired whether I had some thoughts on this.
I don’t want to second guess Biden’s team. I’m not in the room and they all have, overall, more experience than I do in regard to diplomacy. On the other hand, none of them were in US Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden with the Commanding General and senior staff in 2014 watching the strategic environment shift as things went from Putin is being a pain in the ass to Putin is waging a low intensity war against the US, the EU, and NATO.
I am very concerned. And have been for several weeks as the summit approaches as I’ve observed Russia’s and Putin’s and Putin’s key surrogates behavior.
For instance, on 31 MAY Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made remarks about Russia monitoring the US’s law enforcement response to the 6 JAN attack on the Capitol:
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: we are closely watching the persecution of people involved in storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Suggest the human rights, rights of opposition are being violated pic.twitter.com/cf3rJA7c4y
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) May 31, 2021
This included reporting about this inside Russia:
This comes out of Malofeev's outlet. He sponsors the far right parties working to overthrow democracy in the West pic.twitter.com/LknIpk3t4w
— Olga Lautman (@OlgaNYC1211) May 31, 2021
It is important to note that this was the language Russia was using regarding Ukraine in 2014 just before in the months before it scarfed up Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine using the little green men. I’m not expecting a similar attempt here, at least nothing so clearly obvious, but Putin will keep funding state level secessionist movement, making overtures to Republican officials and conservative movement leaders and their organizations, and continue his active measures campaign to undermine and destabilize the US.
We now know that at least part of Lavrov’s remarks were a domestic maskirovka – a strategic diversion through the targeted use of information – as Russia was preparing to, and now has, outlawed Navalny’s opposition groups. From the AP:
MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Wednesday night outlawed the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by labeling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September.
The Moscow City Court’s ruling, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling regional network from seeking public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had hoped to run for parliamentary seats in the Sept. 19 election.
The ruling, part of a multipronged Kremlin strategy to steamroll the opposition, sends a tough message one week before President Vladimir Putin holds a summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.
The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials.
In fact Lavrov’s statements and the outlawing of Navalny’s organizations were proceeded by this statement from the editor in chief of Russia Today:
Her rationale is that Moscow is forcing the closure of “undesirable”/“extremist” groups like @openrussia_team & @fbkinfo (which she implies are foreign puppets), and turning the screws against U.S.-based social networks. Basically, it’s the “bomb Voronezh” school of thought.
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) May 27, 2021
This was not, however, solely for internal effect within Russia. Russia has been funding and financing, both covertly and overtly, numerous neo-nationalist and neo-fascist opposition movements and political parties within the EU in an attempt to break up the EU. It has also been funding the Texas and Californian secessionist groups in addition to spending lavishly to penetrate major conservative movement organizations and activities like the NRA and the National Prayer Breakfast. Rather, this was Putin both signaling that he would tolerate no real opposition domestically and that it doesn’t matter if President Biden thinks he’s the new sheriff in town and that liberal democracy is back, Putin will do whatever he wants because it doesn’t matter what he does, the American president, regardless of who is president, will meet with him.
A very interesting op-ed in yesterday’s Moscow Times provides some of the reasoning behind Putin’s actions:
Putin’s Russia is not simply uninterested in dialogue with Europe. The Kremlin believes that the EU does not deserve dialogue with Russia.
The only country that Moscow genuinely wants to have a dialogue with is Washington. Putin’s regime defines its place in the world through rejection of the U.S. global leadership and, simultaneously, through mimicking what it believes to be American behaviour in the international arena. Russia’s own subversive, yet often erratic, behaviour on the global stage can, to some degree, be seen as a continuous attention-grabbing stunt aimed at compelling Washington to ask Moscow for cooperation.
The most recent example of this is the unprecedented massive spring build-up of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border – a build-up that ended after U.S. President Joe Biden proposed a meeting with Putin.
With the accelerating global competition between Washington and Beijing, Moscow understands that its chances of being accepted as an equal pole in a multipolar world are dependent on Washington’s willingness to engage in dialogue with Moscow.
Putin believes, or at least acts like he believes that, Russia is still one of the two great powers left over after the end of World War II. And that the US and its allies and partners have worked for decades since the end of the Cold War to undermine this reality. Putin’s actions are all intended to get the US’s attention. To force the US to engage with it. For the American president to engage directly with Putin, which elevates Putin’s stature. This, combined with Putin’s desire to restore Russia’s near abroad and sphere of influence to that of the USSR, undergirds all of Putin’s actions within the low intensity political war he has been waging against the US for at least the past seven years.
This morning we learned that Putin is going to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system for tracking military targets. Less than a week before his summit with President Biden.
Putin is going to do what Putin is going to do. But my overall feeling is you don’t want to give Putin anything he can spin in his favor right now. Especially if he has not earned it via demonstrations of good behavior, which he hasn’t. Instead, he and his surrogates have spent the past several weeks acting out. If I had been advising on this – which I was not and highly doubt I ever will be – I would have recommended that Biden should do a tour of the region post G7, meet individually with the heads of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, as well as Ukraine, then hold a summit with all of them first. Then either hold the meeting with Putin because he was in the neighborhood or announce that he is willing to meet with Putin at a later date provided events warrant it. That would provide much better optics for Information Operations and PSYOP. It will also begin to demonstrate that their are rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior. Because until or unless Putin is punished in some way that actually negatively impacts him, he will not change his behavior.
But other than some people here, no one is asking me. So…