Joe Biden is trying to “rally the world’s democracies” in his first trip overseas as President – but his most important meeting is with an autocrat.
Joe Biden has flown out of Washington D.C. on his first overseas trip since becoming US President, aiming to “rally the world’s democracies” to compete with autocracies like Russia and China.
eight-day visit to Europe begins in the United Kingdom, where he will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Queen before attending the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall.
The G7 consists of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK, though other world leaders,, will be there as well.
After the G7, Mr Biden will travel to Brussels for a NATO summit on Monday, where he intends to reaffirm America’s commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance.
His predecessor,, had . Mr Trump repeatedly criticised other member nations for not contributing enough defence spending, and threatened to withdraw from the alliance.
During his time in Brussels, Mr Biden will also meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
His last and most significant stop is Geneva, where he will meet one-on-one withon Wednesday.
Mr Biden says every part of the trip is focused on
Biden’s gamble: Is he ‘rewarding’ Putin?
The bilateral meeting with Putin comes amid the fallout from two recent controversies: a cyberattack on the US company JBS, which the Biden administration believes came from a “criminal organisation likely based in Russia”; andto force a commercial plane to land in Belarus so an anti-government journalist on board, Roman Protasevich, could be arrested.
In addition, earlier this year, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was previously poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.
These incidents added to a lengthy list of offences committed by Russia under Putin’s rule, including the annexation of Crimea, the destruction of MH17 and the attempts to interfere in other countries’ elections.
Republican politicians have expressed concerns that Mr Biden is “rewarding” Putin by granting him a meeting, which will inevitably benefit him politically back in Russia.
“We’re rewarding Putin with a summit?” Senator Ben Sasse said when the meeting was announced late last month.
“Putin imprisoned Alexei Navalny and his puppet Lukashenko hijacked a plane to get Roman Protasevich. Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we’re giving him his treasured Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimising his actions with a summit.
“This is weak.”
on the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline last month.
The concerns are not just coming from Mr Biden’s opponents.
For example, former State Department official Heather Conley, who now works at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies,the summit was happening too soon in his presidency and without a clear enough purpose.
“It’s absolutely unclear what tangible outcome can come from this conversation, other than Putin getting that great photo op, continuing to do what he does, and his regime destabilising the US and its allies,” she said.
The White House has pushed back against this criticism, saying Mr Biden will use the summit to discuss a “full range of pressing issues”, including arms control, Ukraine and the incident with the plane in Belarus.
Officials say the goal is to “restore predictability and stability” to the US-Russia relationship.
“We don’t regard the meeting with the Russian President as a reward. We regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country’s differences, not in spite of them. It’s an opportunity to raise concerns where we have them and, again, to move towards a more stable and predictable relationship with the Russian government.
“This is how diplomacy works. We don’t meet with people only when we agree. It’s actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements.”
While briefing reporters on the President’s trip on Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan also rejected the idea that Putin was being rewarded.
“There is simply a lot we have to work through,” Mr Sullivan said.
“We believe that President Biden is the most effective, direct communicator of American values and priorities. And we believe that hearing directly from President Putin is the most effective way to understand what Russia intends and plans.
“There is never any substitute for leader-to-leader engagement, particularly for complex relationships, but with Putin this is exponentially the case. He has a highly personalised style of decision making, and so it is important for President Biden to be able to sit down with him face-to-face, to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage our differences, and to identify those areas where we can work in America’s interests to make progress.”
The gamble, then, is that meeting with Putin will yield enough progress to be worth whatever political benefit he gets out of it back in Russia.
The White House will hope this summit unfolds very differently from.
At a joint press conference, Mr Trump showered the Russian leader with praise and said he believed Putin’s claim he had not interfered in the 2016 presidential election, contradicting US intelligence agencies.
Biden’s agenda: Democracy vs autocracy
Since he became President, Mr Biden has frequently spoken about an existential challenge facing the world’s democracies, saying they need to prove a democratic system can confront crises and economic change more effectively than an autocratic one.
“We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world,” he told the Munich Security Conference in February.
“We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face – from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic – autocracy is the best way forward, and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting those challenges.
“We must prepare together for a long term strategic competition with China. How the United States, Europe and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake.”
He made similar remarks at his first presidential press conference in March.
“I predict to you, your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded – autocracy or democracy – because that is what is at stake,” said Mr Biden.
“This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. That’s what is at stake here. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”
The following month, in his address to a joint session of Congress, he said America’s politicians must “restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver”.
In this instance, he specifically alluded to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, in which Mr Trump’s supporters attempted to stop Congress from certifying his election defeat.
“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart? America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting we can’t,” said Mr Biden.
“They look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof the sun is setting on American democracy. But they are wrong. You know it. I know it. But we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.
“We will meet the central challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong. Autocrats will not win the future. We will.”
You get the picture. This is the core of Mr Biden’s foreign policy, and is the explicit purpose of his European trip.
Before leaving Washington D.C. on Wednesday morning, the President told reporters the point of going was to “strengthen the alliance” and “make it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight”.
And he explained himself at greater length in a Washington Post op-ed published over the weekend, saying.
“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realising our renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age,” Mr Biden wrote.
“We will be stronger and more capable when we are flanked by nations that share our values and our vision of the future – by other democracies.
“That’s the agenda I will advance at every stop.”
He his meetings with European leaders in Brussels would focus “on ensuring that democracies, not China or anyone else”, write the rules on trade and technology.
“So when I meet with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, it will be after high level discussions with friends, partners and allies who see the world through the same lens as the United States, and with whom we have renewed our connections and shared purpose,” he said.
“We are standing united to address Russia’s challenges to European security, starting with its aggression in Ukraine, and there will be no doubt about the resolve of the United States to defend our democratic values, which we cannot separate from our interests.”
Mr Biden intends to wield America’s ongoing economic recovery, and particularly the fast development and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, as proof that democracies are capable of meeting the challenges before them.
As though to emphasise that point, as he was en route to Britain today US media reported the Biden administration had, which it will donate to the rest of the world.
The President’s viewsby the 2018 book How Democracies Die.
The book, written by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, shows how democracies in Europe and Latin America have collapsed in the past.
“Democracy no longer ends with a bang – in a revolution or military coup – but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of longstanding political norms,” it argues.
Prof Levitsky and Prof Ziblatt were among a group of scholars who signed.
In the wake of last year’s presidential election, multiple Republican-controlled states have passed legislation changing election laws, citing concerns about “integrity”. The scholars blamed those concerns on “manufactured false claims of fraud” from Mr Trump.
“In future elections, these laws politicising the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election,” it said.
“These actions call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy.”
The academics urged Congress to “do whatever is necessary” to pass a law establishing national voting and election administration standards which “prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules to manufacture the result they want”.
“Our democracy is fundamentally at stake,” they warned.
The situation back home may undermine Mr Biden’s message as he meets other democratic leaders.ahead of the trip, The New York Times reported European leaders were “wary of the United States in a way they have not been since 1945” and “wondering where it is headed”.
“They have seen the state of the Republican Party,”told the newspaper.
“They have seen January 6. They know you could have another president in 2024.”
Prof Ziblatt made the same point in an interview with The Post.
“If (Biden is) not successful in protecting voting rights in the United States, it obviously puts usto make the case for democracy globally,” he said.
Plenty to be going on with then.