The other day, the press secretary of the Russian leader Dmitry Peskov said that the next talks in the format of a video link between the presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, may take place before the New Year, and the discussion will focus on Ukraine and NATO. Andrei Korobkov, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Tennessee, told Gaz-eta.Ru about why Ukr-aine and Europe as a whole are leaving the center of Washington’s attention and about other exp-ectations from the conversation between the leaders of the two countries.
Gazeta.Ru: Online negotiations between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin may take place by the end of the year. The American media claim that the main issue that will be discussed there is military actions in Ukraine, which Russia and the United States are allegedly preparing to conduct. From your point of view, how justified is such a scenario and what will these negotiations be about?
Andrey Korobkov : There are many issues that require discussion at the presidential level. And I think that the main part of the meeting will be devoted to them, and not at all to Ukraine. First of all, these are the consequences of the rapid and poorly organized American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the prospects for the spread of Islamist movements to neighboring countries.
The problem of hackers, which, firstly, is already relevant for both sides, and secondly, is increasingly perceived as a threat to national security, and not just, say, issues of American election policy.
The events of the past and this year have shown that hacker attacks can cause colossal economic damage. The attacks on a meat processing plant (JBS SA) and on a US pipeline company (Colonial Pipeline Company) not only caused great economic damage, but led to serious drops in supplies, in particular, gasoline.
Ukraine, of course, will figure as before, but it is unlikely that it is the main issue in the interaction between Russia and the United States at the moment.
The Biden administration has always been very skeptical about [Ukrainian President Volodymyr ] Zelenskiy, and what is happening in Kiev now could lead to some new conflicts, both within Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine.
And there is always the danger of escalation. Therefore, this issue, of course, will be touched upon, but it will by no means be the main issue during these negotiations.
- Why then do the media inflate this topic so much? What’s the idea here?
- As for the Europeans, it is understandable. What is happening now in the United States is of utmost concern to all Europeans, because when Donald Trump left the White House, there was euphoria in Europe, there was a hope that everything would retu-rn to normal, and Europe would again become the center of American foreign policy interests.
And Biden’s very first visit there showed that this was by no means the case, that – yes, the style has changed compared to Trump, it has become somewhat softer, but Europe is no longer the first number in American strategic interests.
Accordingly, money is going away, protection is potentially going away. And therefore, the Europeans are extremely annoyed, they are doing everything to somehow pull the Americans back into this theater, including exaggerating their importance and exaggerating the importance of the conflicts that are taking place, say, on the periphery of the Western European zone of influence.
But nothing can be changed, and Biden showed this very clearly both by his decision on Nord Stream 2 and, of course, by the scandalous creation of a new defense alliance in the Pacific Ocean – it was such a spit in the direction of France. And if they talked with France in such a tone, then what can we say about, say, Eastern and Central Europeans.
And now, on the one hand, they are trying to put on a good face in a bad game, and on the other, to create situations in order to show Washington their value. This applies to both European leaders and those in the administration who do not agree with the new course and are trying to demonstrate somehow the importance of Europe both for the American leadership and for American public opinion. But it is clear that the general course has already been taken quite clearly –
The United States is shifting its focus from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific Ocean, and this main trend will no longer be reversed.
- But in this regard, why was the strategy of intimidation chosen? That is, in fact, a threat is being created out of the blue, which, in general, should, in theory, cause some kind of respo-nse from the White House.
- This is an absolutely typical situation. In the conditions of the existence of a civil society, a strategy is necessary, because in this very civil society it is necessary to create some kind of influence groups so that they put pressure on elected politicians, so that lobbyists influence in a certain direction and try to influence political leadership.
But, firstly, they do not take into account the organization of such a campaign, because this is already a global shift, which is completely unrelated to the desires of the same Biden, but simply reflects the objective reality of a change in the balance of power in the world.
By 2035, according to the OECD ( Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ) estimates, only two European countries will remain among the ten leading economic powers in the world, and they will occupy the last places. Great Britain will be 10th, Germany – 9th. By the end of the century, not a single European country will remain among the leading economic powers. Therefore, under the trends that are currently taking place, there is a solid economic basis – if you lose economic influence, you lose both military and political.
And, in fact, what the EU does not take into account is Biden’s position. Now he has no time for Europeans – he literally needs to get out of the swamp. The latest poll showed that his ratings, despite massive support from the media, the elite press, turned out to be lower than that of Trump, who was attacked by the press during all four years of his presidency.
They amounted to 36%, and there is not even a possibility of castling, since Kamala Harris has set an absolute anti-record – her support was about 28%, which means that a huge share of even Democrats does not support her. Therefore, even changing the “horse” will not change anything for the democrats.
And in this situation, naturally, Biden will now solve internal problems, and he is not at all up to the current interests of the Europeans.
Which does not mean at all that European leaders, or, say, Ukrainian leaders will not try to shift the center of gravity to Europe, and this may lead to the emergence of some serious conflicts.
- It turns out that in order to attract Biden’s attention, Ukraine can unleash some kind of large-scale conflict?
- I would say, not Ukraine, but personally Zelensky, who found himself in an even more catastrophic situation than Biden, since a significant part of the Ukrainian elite turns away from him and puts on new people – on the same [ex-speaker of the Rada who was dismissed Dmitry] Razumkov. And he needs, among other things, to somehow demonstrate his value, including to the Western countries.
This is always a very risky game that can lead to tragic consequences.
- And Biden in this situation does not become a victim of this media campaign, showing “weakness” by the lack of response to such “threats”?
- Yes, but Biden has long been in “trap 22” (a logical paradox in which a person cannot control norms, since an attempt to violate them automatically implies the need to comply with them. – Gazeta.Ru), which he himself built.
By leaving Afghanistan the way he left, he created a new Vietnamese syndrome. Getting involved in any military conflicts is now extremely dangerous, his relations with the law enforcement agencies are terrible. And he will, of course, avoid it all.
The maximum that he can go to is some kind of bombing of, say, Iran – something that does not require the actions of troops on the ground.
And therefore, of course, the Ukrainian leadership finds itself in a very difficult situation, since it, like [ex-president of Georgia] Mikhail Saakashvili in 2008, may incorrectly assess, first of all, its value for potential partners.
But it seems that the visit of the head of the CIA, William Burns, to Moscow in early November is very indicative in this regard. As you remember, [US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs] Victoria Nuland flew to Moscow, but did not stop in Kiev, which was very revealing and demonstrative. And now the chief of intelligence is arriving, which, in general, is a rare enough occurrence to conduct, in fact, political negotiations.
That is, there is some conversation about the exchange of intelligence information, there is a conversation about some kind of cooperation, and it is clear that both sides need this cooperation, that they believe that there are very serious threats to the interests of both countries – these are hackers and Islamic terrorism, all kinds of paramilitary groups, this is the need to do something about the Iranian nuclear program.
And in conditions when there is a search for at least some compromises in these areas, the emergence of a new point of conflict – say, in the Donbass – is highly undesirable for both sides.
Therefore, of course, Zelensky is in a very difficult situation, and he is playing a very dangerous game both inside the country and in terms of his relationships with leading Western partners.
- In the American media, fears are expressed that such a situation unties Russia’s hands in terms of resolving the situation with the southeast of Ukraine by more decisive actions – that is, indeed, the introduction of troops, blocking the Armed Forces of Ukraine and, in fact, the creation of some kind of interim government, more or less loyal to Moscow?
- Foreign policy crises very often arise at the time of internal political crises and are viewed as such mechanisms for diverting attention. We all remember the famous phrase about “small victorious war”.
Now there is no such need – on the contrary, the elections were held, they were manageable, everything is quite calm and stable.
I do not think that such a new conflict is needed, which will naturally lead to a very strong exacerbation of relations with the West. Therefore, I think that even if there is a military initiative, it will not come from the Kremlin.
- How does the American society generally perceive Biden’s foreign policy?
- Generally speaking, of course, almost 90% of Americans are not interested in politics at all and have a rather poor idea of what is happening in this area.
An important trigger that worked for the average American was the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The fact is that almost every resident of the country has one of the relatives or acquaintances in one way or another connected with the army – he serves there or once served, and, of course, Biden’s actions, which were in no way justified from the point of view of ordinary Americans, were perceived negatively by them, and it is widely believed that he is not all right with his head.
Experts, on the other hand, were disappointed in Biden because of his inconsistency, because he promised that he would “be like with his grandmother,” but as with his grandmother he did not – in fact, he continued the policy of his predecessor Donald Trump , just in a more veiled form.
That is why now the level of support for the president has dropped to a critical 36%. He was turned away not only by the centrists, who played a decisive role in the elections without supporting Trump, but also by many Democrats.
And here it should be noted that the Democrats have a very difficult position – they cannot change Biden to Kamala Harris, since her support rating is even lower.
And there is practically no “bench”, which cannot be said about the Republicans, where there are a lot of strong politicians.
Therefore, my forecast for the next elections is quite obvious – the Democrats will not be able to keep the presidency, and Biden’s nomination for a second term is now out of the question.