The date and site of the summit of the U.S. and Russian presidents, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, were announced this week. It is to take place on June 16 in Geneva.
For Ukraine, the very fact of this summit being held is a positive development: in international politics of this level, certainty is always better than uncertainty. After all, the result of this summit will be a better understanding by Russia of the boundaries of its aggressive action. It is in the interests of the United States and the West as a whole to designate for the Kremlin the limits of its capabilities.
I think security issues will be central among all items to be discussed by the presidents of Russia and the United States. And, consequently, the role of Ukraine in this regard will be one of the key ones, because it is no longer possible to imagine the security of Europe without that of Ukraine. It is already clear that Ukraine will be part of the West one way or another. Whether this will happen in a year or five is another question. But psychologically, the West has already accepted the fact that Ukraine will be part of the civilized world.
On the other hand, Russia will be separated from this world by the "iron curtain," and we are now observing this on the example of Belarus. Consequently, it will be simply impossible to ignore the role and importance of Ukraine in this regard.
In my opinion, at this summit the American side will tell Putin that on Ukraine, it is impossible to proceed the way Russia has been.
However, the question will not be asked bluntly, and a demand to Russia to release Donbas and Crimea tomorrow will not be put forward. This is not how questions will be raised. The situation will be frozen and the current status quo will remain in place, but Russia will not be allowed to advance even an inch further, otherwise harsh punishment will ensue.
For Ukraine, such an alignment, on principle, would be acceptable. This is certainly not the ultimate program, which would be the return of our territories, but this is not the "gray zone" in which we traditionally find ourselves when there is no one to have our back.
In a more global context, it is great that the Biden-Putin meetup will take place after the NATO summit and after the EU-US summit. Indeed, talking with Putin, Biden will speak on behalf of not only the United States, but on behalf of the collective West. During these summits, he will hear certain thoughts, proposals, and ideas and accumulate all of them during his negotiations with Putin.
Therefore, the outcome of the summit should be positive. Although, of course, after meeting with Biden, Putin will tell everyone how he is, that the U.S. president himself is talking to him only because he was forced to do so, and that they discussed a number of issues (climate change, strategic stability, new promising agreements in the field of disarmament, and the like). That is, for Russian audiences, Putin will present the summit as a resounding victory, but behind these words there will be a hard truth in the form of "red lines" that Biden will draw with a very bright sharpie.
So what Ukraine-related issues could be discussed at the summit?
Firstly, I believe that the issue of resuming water supplies to Crimea by Ukraine will not be raised at the summit. The issue is exclusively within the competence of Ukraine, so the United States will never tell Zelensky or Shmyhal to pull the switch and let the water flow. After all, this would be impossible to fulfill even technically: the reconstruction of canal systems would take more time than the remaining period of Putin being in power.
Secondly, the issue of Nord Stream 2 will not be raised bluntly, because the situation here is more complicated. Parliamentary elections will be held in Germany in September, and opinion polls show there is now a clear trend that the Greens will win. Of course, this doesn't guarantee they will lead the German government, because there may be various options for a coalition agreement, but no one doubts that they will become part of the new government. And in their campaign, the Greens have laid down in black and white: No to Nord Stream 2! They will include this in the government action plan. Thus, even if this gas pipeline is completed, it is unlikely to ever be commissioned and launched.
Therefore, the Americans at this last stage of Merkel’s tenure in power want no discord between Europe and America. On the contrary, Biden has repeatedly stated that he seeks to restore Trans-Atlantic unity, and in this regard, Germany is a key counterpart.
Therefore, Biden is now acting very wisely when he says let Nord Stream 2 be completed. He understands very well that in three to five months, when the new government is formed and takes power in Germany, Nord Stream 2will be blocked by the new German officials. So this is a right kind of tactic to apply.
Third, there is an opinion that the United States could go for certain concessions to Russia in exchange for guarantees that the Russian Federation doesn't form any alliance with China. However, if we consider the U.S.-China-Russia triangle, in particular, its economic part, Russia is simply invisible there: it's nothing, nil. A country with a GDP of only 1.5-1.6% of world GDP is what mathematicians call "tending to zero." So there's no Russia in this triangle as an economic player, simply because it influences nothing economy-wise.
So it makes no sense for America to enlist Russia's support against China. Moreover, this would be an unrealistic endeavor as Russia and China are operated by the same type of authoritarian regimes: playing with one authoritarian regime against another one would lack logic.
In terms of security, the situation is somewhat different, because Russia can still somehow be compared to America, while China is significantly inferior in this parameter. However, engaging Russia in confronting China in terms of security would also be unrealistic.
And as for Ukraine, it's not part of this setting at all, so this topic is more speculative than practical.
Volodymyr Ohryzko is a Ukrainian diplomat, head of the Center for Russian Studies, ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs