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Biden and an Exciting Date with ‘Platov’

Biden and an Exciting Date with ‘Platov’

Monday, 14 June, 2021 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The director, who planned President Joe Biden’s first foreign appearance, is not lacking in skill. The European trip represents a challenge in the COVID-19 era, which forced presidents to stay behind their masks and their office walls. It is the first world appearance after the global war, which was triggered by the “Chinese virus” and has so far claimed the lives of four million people. It is a presence at the European theater, which during the last century used the rising American power to eliminate Adolf Hitler and save Europe from Joseph Stalin.


The G7 summit, a European gathering and an Atlantic meeting, topped with bilateral talks in Geneva with the “killer”, who comes from the Russian frozen land. Biden’s presence is aimed at conveying a clear message that “America is back.” That’s why he is keen on sending out smiles, nods and reassurances.


The US president’s appearance raised questions that usually pop up every time the identity of the White House resident changes, especially after the Afghan and Iraqi tests and their disappointing results. Is America really interested in returning to the leadership of the world? Can it still afford the price of such a burdensome role? Is it true that its relations with the Old Continent still stand and that its commitment to the Atlantic Charter has not faltered? Is it true that the US is called to a decisive battle with China, which wants to grab the top economic spot, and whose experience constitutes a blatant challenge to the Western model that links prosperity to democracy and human rights?


On Biden’s table were many subjects: the pandemic and the fair distribution of vaccines, climate, trade, relations with the “aggression of the Tsar”, the “greed of Mao’s heirs”, and the responsibility to fight terrorism and cyber-attacks.


During those summits, Biden tried to stress that America was ready to participate in leading the world. While he suggested that his country would not dance alone, he was confident in finding reliable partners.


The US-Russian summit, in turn, will open the door for comparisons. Biden’s use of the word “killer” to describe his Russian counterpart did not prevent the summit from being scheduled. Biden hinted that he would be tough on getting the message out to Putin. Strict messages pertaining to the interference in US elections, cyber-attacks, and hunting down opponents at home and abroad. Messages related to the destabilization of neighboring countries, starting with Ukraine and reaching Syria and Iran, where Washington could request Moscow’s help to soften Tehran’s position on the nuclear, regional and ballistic files.


But the Tsar is not a distributor of gifts, and he will set the appropriate price in relations, sanctions, and NATO’s behavior.


At the Geneva summit between Biden and Putin, the world will be reminded of a noteworthy fact. America is stronger than Russia, but the Tsar is stronger than the master of the White House. Previous photos confirm this. That was in July 2018. I was among the journalists who flocked to the summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.


The joint press conference represented the peak of excitement on the Finnish date. Two strong leaders appearing together. The American adventurer, who came from outside the traditional school and the Russian chess player, who emerged from the heart of the security establishment.


I was discussing with our colleague Kamil Tawil the strengths and weaknesses of each of the two players. It was no secret that Putin was strong and tough but we did not disregard the fact that the size of his country’s economy is the same as that of Italy. Moreover, despite the length of his stay, he failed to accomplish something similar to the Chinese miracle.


On the other hand, it was clear that Trump was the supreme commander of the top military force in history, which can hit any target around the world. The United States leads the first and strongest economy, despite the competition led by Beijing.


But the journalist could not forget the amount of reassurance enjoyed by the master of the Kremlin. He doesn’t have a Congress to be afraid of, nor does he have a reason to worry about the cruelty of screens and headlines.


Trump, the warrior, lacked this feeling of serenity. He was sure that American journalists would not spare an opportunity to lash out at him, whether in live press conferences or in the media.


The same thoughts came to my mind in the last year of the last century, when I attended the US-Syria summit in March. It was no secret that America is much stronger than Syria in all fields. President Hafez al-Assad was not in the best of health, but he seemed confident in the next day’s media coverage in his country. He did not have a Congress to sour his mood, nor did he have a “poisoned” press. Rather the head of intelligence knows the next day’s headlines even if he was not there to draft them. I had the feeling that Bill Clinton was worried about the next day’s media reports.


The Geneva summit is certainly important. Most likely, Putin will reserve a role for himself in the next stage. The United States, which decades ago was playing the Chinese card to weaken the Soviet Union, may hear rising voices that call for using the Russian card to weaken the Chinese giant. If these voices emerge, Putin will not hesitate to exploit these channels to strengthen his country’s position with both Washington and Beijing, especially since the Chinese rise is more dangerous to his country than to the United States.


Biden’s advisers are not mistaken if they oppose the joint press conference with the “killer”.


The length of the time served at the Senate or the corridors of the White House does not help in facing the officer coming from the KGB High Academy, where Putin - codenamed Platov - was trained on living with forged papers and false names. The man, who resided near the Berlin Wall under the pretext of running the Soviet-East German Friendship House was in fact an accomplished spy who subjugated and chased other detectives. He was there and quickly destroyed the documents when the wall collapsed. He appears to have vowed revenge for what he called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.”


Biden’s mission is impossible. It is difficult to convince the “killer” to give up his profession.


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