The virtual bilateral summit between US President Joe Biden and Russia’s counterpart Vladimir Putin took place on Tuesday 7 December. The two rival heads of State discussed the situation in Eastern Europe, broken by the winds of war that blow from the Baltic to Crimea, and managed to ease the tension without reaching a definitive agreement.
Biden arrived at the meeting with the aim of not provoking Moscow further. The superpower is already extensively undermining Russia in its neighboring countries, right into Ukraine and Belarus, which represent the last bastions of the traditional space of Russian imperial influence in Europe.
The United States is focused on the Chinese challenge in the Indo-Pacific and has no intention of fostering a growth in tension with Moscow that could provoke a war with unpredictable outcomes. The US even fears that the Baltics and the Poles are the ones to spark a conflict, after having granted them with the first line of containment of Russia over the past decade.
Precisely for this reason, in addition to airing the imposition of tremendous sanctions, Biden confirmed that he does not intend to send American soldiers to Ukraine. A message addressed to the Russians but above all to the eastern European capitals that are more aggressive against Moscow.
After the remote meeting, the head of the White House had a collective phone call with the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. Leaving for a second time the conversation with the heads of State and government of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries.
A issue of diplomatic priorities, as well as of the American desire to keep the most warlike chancelleries on the continent away from the center of action. Precisely those who, despite being at the forefront of a hypothetical conflict, would be happy to drag the US into a war against Russia.
Overall, for now the American stance confirms that Washington does not want to open up to Moscow to use it against Beijing, considered a threat not yet dangerous enough to bring about a change of US strategy. While it is true that on the one hand he has held back Baltic, Polish and Ukrainians, on the other Biden has not shown himself willing to sign any kind of agreement with Putin regarding the European dossier.
The American president then announced a future meeting between Russia and at least four of the main NATO countries. It is likely that these are Italy, Germany, France and Great Britain, or rather the three members of the Atlantic Alliance most open to dialogue with Moscow and one – the United Kingdom – which has always been on the hard line.
The summit’s interlocutory outcome – to prevent the escalation of tension in an open war in Europe – is exactly what Putin also hoped for. In the last twenty years, in fact, the Russian Federation has been pushed back from the heart of the Old Continent by the NATO expansion of several hundreds of kilometers to the east and today it is on the strategic defensive.
With his back to the wall, the tenant of the Kremlin signals that in order to block Kiev’s entry into NATO, he is willing to wage war by amassing troops on its borders. Except then knocking on the door of the White House in an attempt to avoid a conflict that would be devastating also for his country.
Hence the idea of relaunching the negotiations for the application of the Minsk agreements, evoked by several parties after the summit in videoconference. The hypothesis displeases Kiev more than Moscow, since it implies a Ukrainian federal structure that would allow the Russians to keep a firm footing in Ukrainian institutions.
Finally, the Russian president will certainly have found a way to tell Biden that despite the crisis with West, Russia has no intention of being sucked into an alliance with no alternatives by China. American pressure was the trigger for the great rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing in recent years.
Achieving a general settlement in Europe will take time and patience, especially when it comes to redesigning the spheres of influence shattered after the end of the Cold War. What is certain is that the invasion of Ukraine is not for tomorrow.