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Biden and Putin Agree to Disagree in Geneva

It remains to be seen whether the summit’s business-like atmosphere will lead to a change in relations.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a press conference.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16. Peter Klaunzer/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden agree to begin strategic security dialogue, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returns to the country after a decade away, and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper is raided by police.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden agree to begin strategic security dialogue, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returns to the country after a decade away, and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper is raided by police.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Biden and Putin Agree to Talk ‘Strategic Stability’

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended their bilateral summit early on Wednesday with nothing left to say and not much to show for it. Although the post-summit press conference saw Biden deliver a Trump-style rebuke of a CNN reporter, the meeting largely avoided the mixed messages sent during the 2018 Helsinki summit.

Speaking separately to the press after the meeting, both leaders struck a tone of mutual respect. “If you ask me what sort of a partner . . . Biden is, Id say he is very constructive,” Putin said. “Hes very balanced—just the way that I expected,” he added. Biden, meanwhile, spoke of two “powerful and proud countries” coming together.

Although there were few concrete outcomes, the two sides have agreed to begin a dialogue on “strategic stability” or, as Biden put it, to “get our military experts and our diplomats together to work in a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response that raised the prospects of accidental war.” Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon gathered three key takeaways from the summit.

Cyber talk. Biden also presented Putin with a 16-point list of areas considered off limits for cyberattacks. The list (likely the 16 critical infrastructure sectors noted by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) includes energy, food, and water systems—and also the U.S. defense industry. If such targets were subject to a Russian hack, Biden warned of retaliation. “I pointed out to him we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it,” Biden said.

On the horizon. In July, Biden’s theory of foreign policy as “a logical extension of personal relationships” will be tested in a key vote at the United Nations Security Council on whether to extend authorization for humanitarian aid to pass through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey into rebel-held Syria. Putin made no commitment to keep the crossing open in Wednesday’s meeting. As Lina Khatib wrote in Foreign Policy on June 9, both Russia and the United States have an opportunity to go beyond battles over aid and begin discussions on a new Syrian government. A compromise deal could see Russia “sacrificing Assad’s presidency, but only in return for maintaining a degree of influence for itself in Syria,” Khatib wrote.

What We’re Following Today

Hong Kong crackdown. Hong Kong police raided the offices of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily in the early hours of Thursday morning, arresting five senior staff—including editor in chief Ryan Law. Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said the raid, which involved hundreds of officers, was necessary in part because the newspaper’s work was being used as a “tool to endanger” national security. Another security official said certain articles had “incited foreign countries to impose sanctions.” The move is the latest to target Apple Daily’s owner, Jimmy Lai, who was given a prison sentence in April for violating Hong Kong’s Beijing-imposed national security laws.

Gbagbo back. Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returns to his home country today after a decade away following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court in March on charges of crimes against humanity. As Lynsey Chutel observed in Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief, Gbagbo “seems poised to step right back into politics,” although whether his return will open old wounds or heal them is an open question.

Record U.S. heat. A heat wave across the western United States is expected to become more severe, raising the risk of wildfires and heat deaths in an area already experiencing drought conditions. Several states have issued excessive heat warnings, and roughly 200 million people will experience temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit as the week goes on. Power grid officials of economic powerhouses California and Texas have asked residents to limit energy usage to prevent outages.

Keep an Eye On

U.S. North Korea policy. Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will meet with Japanese and South Korean officials in Seoul over the weekend as the Biden administration begins efforts to align North Korea policy. Kim’s trip comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned of a “tense” food situation developing in the country because of poor crop yields due to typhoon-induced flooding. 

Afghan negotiations. The European Union’s envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, has warned of the need to jump-start talks between the Taliban and Afghan government as the two sides continue discussions in Doha this week following a monthslong hiatus and as Western troop withdrawals continue. “Time is getting shorter as we speak,” Niklasson told Reuters. “There has been no or very little progress on substance, so from that perspective, more has to be done.”

Odds and Ends

A diamond believed to be the world’s third largest has been discovered in Botswana, according to the semi-state-owned mining company.

The 1,098-carat stone, roughly the size of a lemon, was unearthed on June 1 and presented for inspection to Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Wednesday. The world’s second largest diamond—the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona—was also found in Botswana in 2015.

The find comes at a difficult time for Botswana’s diamond mining industry as a global economic downturn has sapped demand, with diamond sales falling 30 percent in 2020. Back in February, Masisi warned Botswana would need to diversify beyond sparkling commodities and tap into its estimated 233 billion tons of coal.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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