Back to Geneva... With the sun shining, the sparkling lake backdrop, the motorcades and the front-door greetings, the US-Russia summit meeting this week had a distinctly retro look and feel. These are occasions that everyone involved has known how to do for decades. They were a fixture of the Cold War and its demise, and it seemed that the encounter between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin represented a conscious effort to revive the genre.
You could just imagine the instructions to the leaders on both sides from their advisers: not too much bonhomie, please, or you will suggest a readiness to compromise. Observe the agreed formalities to the letter; they are there to save you from yourself and eliminate the risk of even the slightest gaffe. And, by the way, never forget the political climate and expectations back home: your domestic constituency is counting on you not to let your country down.
Not that either of the presidents at Geneva will have needed much reminding. Both are veterans of summitry, even if Biden’s experience until recently was mostly at one remove. They knew the drill, and they performed flawlessly. Many noted that Putin – unusually – turned up on time: this was his mark of reciprocity for Russia being treated as an equal, however much that equality remains notional and rests almost entirely on weaponry.
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