Reading the tea leaves a week before Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva puts a premium on the kind of media analysis we old-school Kremlinologists had to rely on back in the day. Not all rhetoric is equal though; it is just as important to make an honest attempt to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding a major initiative like the summit proposal. The weird timing of the invitation cries out for explanation.
You Asked For It, Joe
Lest we forget, President Biden suggested a summit with Putin in the midst of very high tension over Ukraine. On March 24 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued an official decree that Ukraine would take Crimea back from Russia; Kiev’s strategy includes "military measures" to achieve "de-occupation." US and NATO voice "unwavering" (rhetorical) support for Zelensky, who sends tons of military equipment south and east. Russia sends troops and arms south and west into Crimea and the border area opposite Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern Ukraine.
One Day in April
The following refresher on what all went down on April 13 may throw some light on why – in such tense circumstances – Biden proposed a summit with Putin.
- NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg slams Russia for sending "thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine’s borders."
- Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu says, in effect, Yes, Stoltenberg has that right; Moscow has sent "two armies and three airborne formations to western regions" over the prior three weeks.