Next month’s G-20 summit in Indonesia will likely feature a high-stakes confrontation between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin as Moscow continues its murderous assault of Ukraine.
American authorities are taking measures to prevent that from happening.
Last week, Biden paved the way for a potential summit meeting with Putin in order to discuss the possibility of negotiating the release of American inmates, including WNBA star Brittney Griner. However, no negotiations to reach a settlement are now underway with the Kremlin, and this situation appears unlikely to change, according to a number of administration officials who are not permitted to publicly disclose ongoing private negotiations.
According to officials, it can’t be ruled out that Biden and Putin may run into each other at some point during the November summit and attend the same huge plenary meeting. However, U.S. officials have disregarded the possibility of a formal meeting and are taking precautions to make sure that the American president does not run into his Russian counterpart in a hallway or even in a picture of world leaders.
William Taylor, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said: “We know what President Biden believes about President Putin: he thinks he’s a killer, he thinks he’s a war criminal.” “Usually, you don’t meet with murderers and war criminals.”
During Biden’s presidency, the two had only interacted once, at a conference in Geneva in the summer of 2021. The two men spoke multiple times while Russia threatened to invade Ukraine; the most recent was in February, just days before the war started.
The G-20 summit, which will take place amid Bali’s stunning beaches, will be the most eagerly anticipated international conference in recent memory. The summit will take place as the conflict has battered Europe and pushed economies to the verge of recession. The G-20 contains some autocracies in addition to the rich democracies that make up the G-7. Not all the participating countries are anticipated to support Ukraine as strongly as European ones have (though even that alliance is straining, as a Putin-sympathetic government takes over in Italy).
The White House now faces further logistical difficulties as a result. While Biden intends to stay away from Putin, senior advisers in Washington and Beijing have reportedly started secret negotiations to have the G-20 host the president and China’s Xi Jinping’s first-ever face-to-face meeting. The first meeting between the presidents of the two major superpowers of the globe would typically be the main event, but Putin is ready to steal the show.
Since the announcement by Indonesian authorities that Putin will make a rare overseas trip there, the White House has been internally debating Putin’s potential presence. The West Wing has come to the consensus that Biden shouldn’t meet with Putin without much debate. Experts on foreign policy, however, have been less united.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and retired Admiral James Stavridis remarked that if he were the president’s advisor, he would strongly advise him to attend the conference.
Stavridis advised him to start by advocating for Griner’s release but to also use the opportunity to tell Putin, “You are losing and you are on a collision course with destiny and it’s not going to end well for you.
Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who were both Biden’s immediate successors, both designed foreign strategies that entailed direct interaction with historically antagonistic leaders; Obama’s goal was to bridge tough diplomatic gaps, while Trump’s goal was to forge personal and political relationships. Biden has not travelled as much. But while promising to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state, he not only earlier met with Putin but also spoke with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly.
These meetings only had sporadic success. A White House official deemed a second meeting between Biden and the crown prince, who is also scheduled to visit Indonesia, “very doubtful” after Saudi Arabia recently disregarded American requests to delay cuts to oil production.
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul noted that Moscow only started amassing soldiers close to the Ukrainian border a few months after Putin and Biden spoke in Geneva. Should Biden and Putin have another meeting, McFaul expressed concern about a similar escalation.
“It’s a tough choice. Communication channels are crucial in times of crisis, according to McFaul. “However, legitimising him is the issue with the conference. You provide Putin with a platform from which to make any claims.
The United States has emphasised throughout the conflict that Ukrainian participation is a requirement for any talks with Russia to cease its incursion. A surprise visit to Bali by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been rumoured in diplomatic circles for weeks, but U.S. officials have played down the notion, thinking that he may instead make an appearance via video.
Biden had publicly stated that he would not meet with Putin, but last week, he complicated the situation.
In a CNN interview, Biden stated, “Look, I have no plan of meeting with him.” But, for instance, I would meet with him if he approached me at the G-20 and said, “I want to talk about the release of Griner. It would depend, I suppose.
Since then, the White House has made it clear that he has “no intention” of seeing Putin. However, authorities acknowledge in private that Biden might meet with Griner, a basketball player serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison for drug offences, or Paul Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence for espionage.
The arrangement would be largely finalised before the presidents met in Bali, according to officials, who emphasised that such a meeting would only take place after weeks of secret negotiations with Moscow. Such discussions are not currently scheduled, but U.S. authorities stated that they are still possible.