Biden, Europe and Russia: Prospects for containment and cooperation

Experts in Washington believe that the US president-elect has a full range of options for developing a transatlantic policy towards Moscow

Experts for the most part consider the European one of the most promising foreign policy directions of the elected US President Joe Biden: the former vice president is known as a supporter of transatlantic cooperation, he was congratulated by many European leaders and the leadership of the European Union, and he himself has repeatedly spoken about the value of the unity of Western democracies.

But what does it mean in practice, apart from mutual benevolence, a possible turn in US European policy under Biden? What can be achieved with better understanding between Washington and European capitals? Experts from America’s leading research centers offer their forecasts in this area..

The Brookings Institution was one of the first to collect «round table» to discuss transatlantic cooperation, and in the course of it it became clear that the next four years in US-European relations will not be too smooth.

The conditions in which transatlantic cooperation will take place, described by a senior expert at the Brookings Institution Constance Stelzenm├╝ller (Constanze Stelzenmüller). She believes that the internal difficulties in the countries of the transatlantic community, which may affect the relationship within this international club:

«After a second round of Senate elections from Georgia next January, I expect the Republicans will retain the majority in the Senate, and given how the Americans «love», when power is divided along party lines, it can be assumed that they will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2022. We also cannot rule out that Trumpism may win again in 2024. And yet we see a wide range of possible outcomes for the transfer of power in Germany in the 2021 elections, as well as in France in 2022. And the populists, despite a slight decrease in their pressure, have not disappeared anywhere, and they will again challenge the political establishment.».

James Goldgeier (James Goldgeier), Analyst, Robert Bosch Center – German research organization partner of the Brookings Institution – believes that with all these turns of domestic policy, there are serious reasons to believe that Biden’s course will be supported in Congress:

«There is full bipartisan support for NATO in Congress, in this sense Trump was at odds with both parties. Congress made it very clear during the Trump presidency that Capitol Hill supported this bloc. – This can be seen both from the resolutions adopted in the summer of 2018 and from the reception given to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Congress in April 2019. Therefore, the two expected lines in Joe Biden’s foreign policy – strengthening transatlantic cooperation in general and NATO support in particular – must be supported by both parties».

NATO under Biden must understand the direction of its development and develop a common approach to threats – hopes so by James Goldgeier «It is an alliance of 30 countries, and it contains all the diversity of perception of each of these 30 countries of priorities in the field of threats and challenges. A new strategic concept for NATO is needed. This has been discussed for some time, and I think this topic provides the Biden administration with an excellent opportunity to engage Canada, Britain and the Europeans in a common conversation that will help Allies focus on a clear and uniform set of priorities.».

Fiona Hill: Russia needs to be depoliticized within the United States

Brookings Institution Expert and Russia Specialist Fiona Hill (Fiona Hill), who also participated in «round table», believes that Russia should cease to be considered a factor in the internal political life of the United States: «After this year’s elections, it is obvious: Trump was chosen by the Americans in 2016, and not promoted to the presidency by Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence, as many Democrats in the government and the expert community said; his election was not an accident».

Fiona Hill believes that if you start treating Russia not as an apple of discord in US domestic policy, but as an element that affects the security of the West as a whole, then this will help develop a unified transatlantic approach to this threat:

«Hacking of computers in the Bundestag and mail in the office of Angela Merkel in 2015, recent hacking of the Norwegian parliament, actions against the Netherlands – lies about the downed flight MH17 over Donbas and the hacking of the OPCW in The Hague, the hacking of a Swiss laboratory investigating the doping scandal, – one can make an unmistakable conclusion that all these actions are directed against many countries, and not just one. This means that in order to insulate ourselves from such steps by Russia, we need collective action.».

According to Fiona Hill, it is necessary to interact with Moscow – in those areas where there is such an opportunity: «We need to define collective parameters for engaging with Russia in different areas, be it arms control, climate change or the global COVID-19 vaccination program.».

At the same time, Fiona Hill does not consider it possible to resume the work of the NATO-Russia Council; the interaction of Western countries is much more important for reducing the Russian threat, the expert of the Brookings Institution is convinced:

«It would be worth creating coalitions of countries and special working groups in order to strengthen the centers of countering hybrid threats – for example, organize it in Prague, Riga and Helsinki to strengthen defenses against cyberattacks. It is worth thinking about how we will unite the efforts of Germany, Switzerland and others to push Russia away from our digital space. We also need to discuss how we can pursue a collective policy on sanctions to turn them into a way to send clear and direct signals to Russia.».

Daniel Fried: Biden may impose sanctions over Navalny and Belarus

Former coordinator of sanctions policy in the Barack Obama administration, expert of the Atlantic Council Daniel Freed (Daniel Fried) during «round table» in «Atlantic Council» November 17, commenting on the use of sanctions in relations with Moscow, paid tribute to the use by the Trump administration «Global Magnitsky Law»:

«She [the Trump administration] put into practice «Global Magnitsky Act» and even did so with less hesitation than the Obama administration. Trump’s people, most notably Deputy Treasury Secretary Siegel Mandelker, who was in charge of the sanctions, believed in their use to protect human rights. They could do a better job on sanctions against Russia and tighten sanctions against Saudi Arabia. But they did a lot using «Global Magnitsky Act» in bringing human rights violators to justice around the world, and I think they left a good basis for Biden’s people to continue that».

Daniel Fried expects the Biden administration to impose sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and the Kremlin’s support for the Lukashenka regime in Belarus, and may also expand sanctions against the Belarusian authorities themselves.

Biden, Europe and Russia: Prospects for containment and cooperation

«Trump administration prepares sanctions in response to Navalny poisoning, but moves slowly, – noted Daniel Fried, answering a question from the Russian Service «Voices of America». – Europe got ahead of us, we had to work with Europeans and act together at the same time.

As for Belarus, Biden’s team, according to the expert «Atlantic Council», will have to develop a joint strategy with Europe:

«We have to think it all over. And an even more difficult question arises: at what point is it necessary to consider the possibility of introducing broad sectoral sanctions against certain areas of the Belarusian economy, and whether we can develop them in such a way as not to harm the population. Biden’s people will carefully consider possible options, and this should be done together with Europe.».

Matthew Rojanski: Biden could have a moment «Nixon Goes to Beijing»

The Wilson Center this week also discussed the prospects for Joe Biden’s European policy, and Washington’s actions towards Moscow under the new conditions may be unexpected. The director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center spoke about this. Matthew Rojanski (Matthew Rojansky).

According to Matthew Rojanski, quite influential forces on both sides – American and Russian – do not expect and do not want to improve relations:

«For those in Russia who were very aggressive towards the United States from the very beginning (first of all, for Russian «security officials»), Joe Biden – this is about the same as Hillary Clinton or John McCain. In other words, partisanship doesn’t matter, what matters is that they regard him as a classic representative of the American establishment. This means that politically it will be more or less the same conflict as before, and, therefore, there is work for them. – and from the point of view «security officials», it’s good».

The director of the Kennan Institute, like Fiona Hill, believes that domestic politics should be removed from relations with Russia: «Objective: to return control over US policy towards Russia to the executive branch of government: the State Department, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and remove the political game from this. For the past four years, politics around Russia has focused on gaining prominence and political capital. The problem that President Biden will face is that his own party, including some of his closest allies, has been very active in this.».

It is in this situation, Matthew Rojansky suggests, that Joe Biden can, by extending the START-3 treaty with Moscow in the very first days of his presidency, turn the situation towards slowly establishing contact with the Russian side..

«This could be that very moment in style «Nixon Goes to China» for Biden. There was a situation when no one had enough credibility to achieve intelligent, controlled interaction with the enemy, and this option would be the best for relations between Washington and Moscow in 2021. With all the rhetoric, and even by virtue of the rhetoric that the Democrats adhered to in relation to Moscow, it will be much easier for them to make such a turn than for the Republicans», – the director of the Kennan Institute predicts.

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