Russian President Vladimir Putin’s complimentary assessment of the U.S President Joe Biden is an interesting piece of diplomatic volleyball. Reflecting on their meeting on Wednesday June 16, 2021, near Lake Geneva, Switzerland, he told reporters: “I can say that he (Biden) is a very constructive, balanced person, as I expected. It seems to me that we generally spoke the same language. This doesn’t mean at all that we must necessarily look into the soul, into the eyes and swear in eternal love and friendship. Not at all, we are protecting the interests of our countries and peoples. These relations are primarily pragmatic.”
Those carefully and strategically deployed words of international relations reminded me of my political science class at my great alma mater, the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN)
where I was taught the existential dynamics, strategic and material interests determine, substantially, “the games nations play.“ There’s an international relations magnum opus with the same name ‘Games Nations Play: Analyzing International Politics.’ It was published in 1972 by John W. Spanier. It was updated with additional contributions by Robert L. Wendzel. The book’s summary notes points to its value as a “study of the shifting balance of power in the world today, and the domestic factors and varying perceptions of reality that influence policy decisions. The authors also reveal the disturbing continuation of the dangerous adversary games that nations play.”
For most nations, the propellers of international engagements are anchored and focused on pragmatism and the core national interests of the country. But for a few but important countries, the banner of its values are like beacons of moral conscience in the continuing battle for dominance among nations, in the battle between authoritarianism and freedoms.
Coming some months after impeached ex President Donald Trump’s complicated, questionable and curious relationship with Putin, Americans were pregnant with understandable anxiety about the likely outcome of Biden’s first tangle with Putin. Putin, to put it bluntly, governed and owned Trump’s deferential mannerisms especially Trump’s inexplicable comment that he trusted Russia’s security statements more than the American security/intelligence following their meeting in Helsinki in 2018. Remember when he asserted to the media “My people … said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” For this unbecoming act and subjugation of American dignity, the late, straight-talking Sen. John McCain rated Trump’s action as ”one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
Biden is the fifth American president to sit across the table or chair for a meeting with the controversial Putin. Biden is one of the three most experienced foreign policy persons in the United States elected President.
Overall, I believe that both men returned with the dignity intact and with both sides looking better. For Putin, the clout and prestige of Russia always gets an advantage whenever it is placed on the wall footing with those of the United States of America. For Biden, he had a commendable International trip to the G7, and then the high-wire engagement with Putin.
Biden, clearly not beholden to the Russians spoke clearly, precisely and in direct condemnation of some of the excesses and abuse of human rights including Putin’s alleged murderous attacks of opposition and pro-democracy activists/candidates.
On the issue of cyber attacks on U.S private business organizations and some government and public facilities, president Biden warned that “If in fact they violate these basic norms, we will respond cyberly. He knows. In a cyber way.”
Even as he spoke strongly, Biden’s measured and realistic sense of the historic opportunities and challenges ahead let him to establish common ground for the two militarily very powerful countries: “This is not a ‘Kumbaya’ moment … but it’s clearly not in anybody’s interest — your country or mine — for us to be in a situation where we’re in a new cold war.”
Similarly, Putin who had the first press conference said “What’s the point of keeping score? It makes no sense to try to scare one another.” Only time will tell, as much as the digital trails of any cyber attacks. I recall it was the former President Ronald Reagan who insisted that in dealing with the Russians and the old Soviet Union, America must follow one principle: trust but verify! *Dr. Chido Nwangwu, the author of the forthcoming 2021 book, MLK, Mandela & Achebe: Power, Leadership and Identity, serves as Founder & Publisher of the first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper on the internet, USAfricaonline.com, and established USAfrica in 1992 in Houston. He is recipient of several public policy and journalism excellence honors, civic engagement and community empowerment awards and has appeared as an analyst on CNN and SKYnews. He served as an adviser on Africa business to Houston’s former Mayor Lee Brown. @Chido247