At about US$1.6 trillion (S$2.2 trillion), Russia’s gross domestic product does not place it among the front ranks of world economies. Yet, a combination of its status as successor state to the erstwhile Soviet Union, its military might, and the activist and often muscular foreign policy directed by President Vladimir Putin has helped to keep Russia a key global player. This is why United States President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe last week, which ended with a Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, takes on special meaning. While nowhere near a reset of their bilateral ties that are said to be at historic lows, and given that both sides were at pains to tamp down expectations, the meeting could prove significant in the months to come.
Mr Putin would have gone into the summit knowing that Mr Biden is unlike any of the other four US presidents he has met directly before. With foreign policy experience that dates back five decades, Mr Biden is not a man to be either enthused or disappointed by a single meeting. Indeed, he emerged from the summit saying that in his sights it was “not about trust… (but) self-interest”. From Washington’s point of view, that self-interest is essentially about convincing Moscow to not meddle, to America’s disadvantage, in issues ranging from the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Arctic, to the strategic noose that Mr Biden seeks to draw around China with help from European and Asian allies.