A U.S.-Russia Summit Is an Opportunity for Constructive Engagement

Senators are open to a Biden meeting with Putin provided that it doesn’t achieve anything:

Senators from both parties tell Axios they generally approve the idea of a summit between President Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin but oppose any reset of relations between Washington and Moscow.

A summit meeting between Biden and Putin is appropriate for reasons that I have spelled out before, and the meeting should be focused on de-escalation and dialogue that Biden has talked about in recent weeks. There is no likelihood of another reset anytime soon, but the Biden administration does need to attempt repairing frayed ties with Moscow sooner rather than later. To that end, a Biden-Putin summit will need to produce some real results in the areas of arms control and regional stability. The two governments won’t have time to negotiate anything significant before a meeting in the summer, but they can lay the foundations for ongoing negotiations on a future arms control treaty that can replace New START. Following the heightened tensions this spring over Ukraine, there is an opportunity to explore possible compromises to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Laying the groundwork for cooperation on climate change, managing competition in the Arctic, and addressing Russian concerns about further NATO expansion could also be on the agenda.

The anti-Russian atmosphere in Washington is arguably as bad as it has ever been, and Russia hawks are doing everything they can to stifle advocates for engagement. That is why it is so important that the U.S. take the initiative to retrieve the relationship from its current downward spiral. There are always lots of loud and organized advocates for confrontation and hostility with Russia, and the relative few that favor engagement are frequently drowned out or pushed to the margins. Unless the president makes a point of stabilizing the relationship, it will be dragged down more every year.

The Biden administration needs to recognize that Russia is not that much of a threat to U.S. interests. I agree with Josh Shifrinson when he writes this:

To minimize the risk from further Russian interventions, the solution is not to underscore the Russian threat in ways that increase Moscow's anxieties and overstate its capacities, but rather to downplay tensions with Moscow and reduce Moscow's perceived need to keep states on its borders out of Washington's own orbit.

The more that the U.S. describes and treats Russia like an enemy, the more of a threat to Russia the U.S. and its allies appear to be. Rather than picking fights with Moscow over issues that matter greatly to them but which matter little to our core interests, the U.S. should focus on those areas where practical cooperation is possible and mutually beneficial. If the summit devolves into a forum for recriminations and lectures like the U.S.-Chinese meeting in Anchorage, it will be a waste of time and a huge missed opportunity.