Lambert here: This is a quietly devastating piece from Helmer. I have been not unimpressed with sentences from Biden on foreign policy. For example, “This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification” is quite a refreshing contrast to the blowhard messianism of Responsibility to Protect. But Helmer shows that at the paragraph level, Biden…. Well, Biden has problems. And I don’t think we’re dealing with anything like an equivalent to Eisenhower’s “Don’t worry Jim, if that question comes up, I’ll just confuse them.”
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
President Joseph Biden spent 33 minutes speaking at his press confernce to a group of US reporters pre-selected, coached, and programmed by name, organisation and text of question. This operation made it impossible to allow Russian reporters to attend.
Biden’s speech to his press was longer than he managed by himself in the restricted-format session with President Vladimir Putin and their two foreign ministers and interpreters, which began the summit on Wednesday, and lasted 108 minutes. The 33-minute performance was also longer than Biden managed at the expanded format of the talks, which included press spokesmen, national security advisers, deputy foreign ministry officials and the two state ambassadors. That session lasted 91 minutes.
Biden demonstrated he can rehearse, recite, repeat.
He added nothing, nor did he subtract anything from the G7 communiqué of three days ago, in which he accused Russia of “destabilising behaviour and malign activities, including its interference in other countries’ democratic systems, and to fulfil its international human rights obligations and commitments. In particular, we call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil, to end its systematic crackdown on independent civil society and media, and to identify, disrupt, and hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes.”
Biden, together with the American journalists appearing at the two presidential pressers, also repeated the accusations of the NATO communiqué of two days ago.
Biden’s 33-minute performance demonstrated the clinical motor and cognitive symptoms which remain state secrets in Washington. They are now better understood in Moscow than by US experts on the 25th Amendment.
In the few impromptu remarks Biden recorded there were flashes of hostility. About China’s President Xi Jinping, he said: “Let’s get something straight. We know each other well. We are not old friends. It’s just pure business”. Asked what he would do if Alexei Navalny dies, Biden said: “That’s not a satisfying answer: ‘Biden said he’d invade Russia.’ You know, it is not — you know. By the way, that was a joke. That’s not true. But my generic point is, it is — it is more complicated than that.”
“I’m not confident he’ll change his behaviour,” Biden rounded on a reporter challenging his capacity to deter Putin, as he tried to leave the press room. “Where the hell — what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said — I said — what I said was — let’s get it straight. I said: What will change their behavior is if the rest of world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything; I’m just stating a fact.”
When Putin was asked by a Russian reporter if he has “any new illusions as a result of this meeting?”, he replied: “ I didn’t even have the old ones, and you’re talking about the new ones. Where did you get the idea about illusions? There are no illusions and there can be no illusions.”
Follow Putin’s question-and-answer session, then click to watch Biden’s press conference. The official transcript of Biden’s remarks issued by the White House has been edited and parts of Biden’s speech erased.
Source, left: http://kremlin.ru/ – this is the Russian original; English translation has not yet been completed by the Kremlin. Right, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ — the White House does not publish foreign language translations.
According to Biden, “the reason [the talks] didn’t go longer is when the last time two heads of state spent over two hours in direct conversation across the table going into excruciating detail? You may know of time; I don’t. I can’t think of one. So we didn’t need, as we got through and as we brought in the larger group, our defence, our intelligence, our foreign – well, my foreign minister, foreign minister, my Secretary of State was with me the whole time, our ambassador, et cetera, brought everybody in, we had covered so much, and so there was a summary done by him and by me of what we covered. Laberov [Lavrov is the spelling in the White House text] and Blinken talked about what we had covered. We raised things which required more amplification… And — and so it was — it was — kind of, after two hours there, we looked at each other like, ‘Okay, what next?’”
Compare what the two presidents said and how they said it:
- Confiscation of diplomatic property, expulsion of officials. PUTIN said: “With regard to the ambassadors returning to their stations – the US ambassador to Moscow, and the Russian ambassador to Washington, we agreed on this matter, and they will be returning to their permanent duty stations. When exactly – tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – is a purely technical issue. We also agreed that the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation and the US State Department would begin consultations on the entire range of cooperation on the diplomatic track. There are things to discuss, and an enormous backlog [of unresolved issues] has piled up. I think both sides, including the American side, are committed to looking for solutions.” BIDEN: “He knows I will take action, like we did when — this last time out. What happened was: We, in fact, made it clear that we were not going to continue to allow this to go on. The end result was we ended up withdrawing — they went withdrawing ambassadors, and we closed down some of their facilities in the United States, et cetera. And he knows there are consequences.”
- Ukraine: PUTIN: “With regard to Ukraine, indeed, this issue was touched upon. I cannot say that it was done in great detail, but as far as I understood President Biden, he agreed that the Minsk agreements should be the basis for a settlement in southeastern Ukraine.As for Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO, this issue was touched upon in passing. I suppose there is nothing to discuss in this respect. BIDEN: “I communicated the United States’ unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk Agreement.”
- Strategic arms limitation: PUTIN: “I think it is obvious to everyone that President Biden made a responsible and, we believe, timely decision to extend New START for five years, that is, until 2024. Of course, it would be natural to ask what next. We agreed to start interdepartmental consultations under the aegis of the US Department of State and the Foreign Ministry of Russia. Colleagues will determine at the working level the line-up of these delegations, the venues and frequency of meetings.” BIDEN: “I am pleased that today we agreed to launch a bilateral strategic security 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 sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now…”
The Russian security guard at President Putin’s aircraft on the Geneva airport tarmac, awaiting his descent from the gangway. The Geneva press reported that Putin had requested no ceremonial welcome by Geneva canton or federal Swiss officials, implying the Russian president was snubbing the Swiss. In fact, this was a security issue: no Swiss personnel were allowed inside the perimeter formed by the Russian guards and vehicles. Source: https://www.youtube.com/ Putin met the Swiss federal president later in the day indoors, when the combined Swiss and Russian security was optimum. Putin then gave President Guy Parmelin more time and attention than President Biden had given him.
- Cyber-war: PUTIN: “The question of who, on what scale and in what area must make commitments should be resolved during negotiations. We have agreed to start such consultations. We believe that cyber security is extremely important in the world in general, for the United States in particular, and to the same extent for Russia.” BIDEN: “We agreed to task experts to work in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off limits and to follow up on specific cases that originate in other countries, in either of our countries.”
- Syria: PUTIN was not asked and did not say anything. BIDEN spoke of “the urgent need to preserve and reopen the humanitarian corridors in Syria so that we can get food, just simple food, and basic necessities, to people who are starving to death… They asked me why I thought that it was important to continue to have problems with the President of Syria. I said, ‘Because he’s in violation of an international norm. It’s called a Chemical Weapons Treaty. Can’t be trusted.’”
- Arctic: “Question: …The US has long accused Russia of militarizing the Arctic, and so have its allies. Recently, in May, we heard from Secretary Blinken about his concerns about the actions of the Russian military. What exactly was said? PUTIN: Yes, we discussed this topic in a broad format and in sufficient detail. This is a very important and interesting topic, bearing in mind that the development of the Arctic in general and the Northern Sea Route in particular is of great interest to the economies of many countries, including non-regional ones. These concerns of the American side about militarization have absolutely no basis. We don’t do anything there that wasn’t done in the Soviet Union. We are restoring the infrastructure that was once completely destroyed. Yes, we are doing this at a modern level: the military and border infrastructure, and what was not there-the infrastructure related to nature protection. We are creating an appropriate base there for the Ministry of Emergency Situations-the Ministry of Emergency Situations, meaning the possibility of saving people at sea, if it comes to that, God forbid, or protecting the environment.” BIDEN: “We discussed how we can assure the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict. I caught part of President Trump’s [name omitted in White House transcript] uhh, Putin’s uhh, press conference, and he talked about the need for us to have some kind of modus operandi dealt with making sure the Arctic was in fact a free zone.”
- Elections: BIDEN: “Let’s get this straight. How would it be if the United States is viewed by the rest of the world as interfering directly with the elections of other countries? And everybody knew it? What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he’s [Putin] engaged in. It diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power.”
- Biden’s mother: PUTIN: “If you asked me what kind of interlocutor and partner President Biden is, I can say that he is a very constructive, balanced person, as I expected, very experienced, it is immediately evident. He remembered a little bit about his family, about what his mother talked to him about-these are important things. They do not seem to be directly related to the case, but nevertheless still show the level or quality of his moral values.” BIDEN: “There were — as a matter of fact, I heard he quoted my mom and quoted other people today. There was — it was very, as we say — which will shock you, coming from me — somewhat colloquial. And we talked about basic, basic, fundamental things.”
- Red lines: PUTIN: “I can tell you that in general, we understand what our American partners are talking about, and they understand what we are talking about when we talk about ‘red lines’. I must tell you frankly, we have not reached this point, of course, by placing accents and dividing things up so far and in such detail. But bearing in mind that we agreed to work on cybersecurity and strategic stability during these consultations, as well as on joint work in the Arctic and in some other areas, I think all this should gradually be the subject of our discussions and, I hope, agreements.” BIDEN: “Question: Did military response ever come up in this conversation today? Did you — in terms of the red lines that you laid down, is military response an option for a ransomware attack? And President Putin had called you, in his press conference, an ‘experienced person.’ You famously told him he didn’t have a soul. Do you now have a deeper understanding of him after this meeting? THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much.”