Seeking Cooperation in Global Struggle: Blinken-Lavrov Meeting

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and United States (USA) Foreign Minister Antony Blinken met during the Arctic Council held in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, on May 20, 2021, and the meeting was completed in a constructive atmosphere. It was seen that besides bilateral relations, other issues that occupied the agenda were also discussed at the summit.

In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) present to your attention opinions of leading experts and academics in the field in order to evaluate the meaning of the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov.

Dr. Emre OZAN (ANKASAM Turkish Foreign Policy Advisor)

Stating that the Joe Biden administration used an extremely harsh rhetoric against Russia when they came into office, and implemented a policy that was pressing Moscow in many areas, Dr. Emre Ozan, also stated that “The most significant problem has been the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. The USA obviously supported Ukraine and both used the sanction card and threatened the Black Sea in terms of military. However, the parties were cautious in escalating the tension and soon resorted to a calm language. As a result, it was announced that the two countries were planning a meeting at the level of heads of state. Immediately after, the meeting at the level of foreign ministers took place.”

Ozan said, “Actually, the USA follows a harsh policy against Russia and after it turns into soft policy is not surprise. Because although the two countries have conflicting interests in many issues, topics that require cooperation are also very essential. For example, Russia is one of the actors on the table in the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and Russia’s attitude may be decisive. On the other hand, cooperation with Russia is substantial in the problems arising from North Korea’s nuclear program. The US is expected to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in the near future. The power gap that will occur in this area can cause serious security problems. We can say that Russia will have more influence here and because of this fact that the US-Russia cooperation will gain importance. As a long-term issue, relations with China are also vital. China is seen by the US as a bigger and more crucial competitor than Russia. For this reason, Moscow’s getting closer to Beijing is against Washington’s interests. Even if the United States does not seek to form an alliance with Russia against China, it will not want to distance Moscow from Washington too much.”

Reminding that Biden’s strict policy implementation that forces Russia in many areas despite all these common interests and after establishing a cautious dialogue is a bit related to domestic politics, Ozan said, “Biden believing Trump has given too many concessions to Russia, is trying to reverse the situation. Biden wants to cooperate with Russia albeit with minimum concession and is willing to to impose his own rules” Bu cümleyi çeviremedim.

Finally, Ozan said that “We can say that Russia is also keen to cooperate with the USA. In other words, Russia is also aware of common interests and does not desire a highly stressed relationship with the USA. But Moscow will cooperate on the condition that its fundamental interests and international position are recognized by Washington. Therefore, there is a difficult process for both countries. Collaborating around common interests is not easy with so many problems in this situation. The fact that both sides sit at the table reveals that there is an effort in this direction.”

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Sait DİLEK (Atatürk University-International Relations)

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Sait Dilek said that, “In order to analyze the Blinken-Lavrov meeting properly, it is necessary to first look at the historical background. Looking at the first period of US Former President Barack Obama, it was seen that Washington was seeking to develop a stable and multidimensional relationship with the Kremlin based on common interests. According to the policy of the Democratic Party in that period; Russia that is a peaceful, prosperous and respectful of international norms, would not contradict the interests of the United States. For this reason, the Democrats had begun to implement the policy they called “Reset” in order to two nuclear powers that had uneasy relations at the end of the young Bush era could turn a white page again. However, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine ended the applicability of this policy in Obama’s second term. The transatlantic structure (USA-European Union (EU)) has evaluated the annexation of Crimea as a great challenge and decided to pressure Russia through economic sanctions.”

Dilek said that, “When the Donald Trump term is examined, it is seen that he announced his intention to the world public opinion to establish close relations with Russia while he was a presidential candidate to the world public opinion. However, the growing allegations that Trump and his team collaborated with the Kremlin in the 2016 elections have affected Trump’s approach. In particular, the “Russia Investigation” resulted in the relations on the Washington-Moscow line to be shaped through the sanction strategy.”

On the other hand, Dilek expressed that, “When Russia, which is among the economically developing countries, is subjected to sanctions over its strong sectors such as defense and energy, this situation brought about rising tensions in many disputed regions (Arctic Ocean-Middle East-Caucasus-Baltics-Asia Pacific-Eastern Europe etc.). For this reason, the variety of problems in the US-Russia relations during the Biden era did not only cause a crisis between the two sides; carries the international system on a fragile, unstable and unpredictable ground. ” used the expressions.

Emphasizing that the Blinken-Lavrov meeting should be considered as the first serious step taken to normalize both sides, Dilek said. He also stated that “This meeting aimed to prepare the arrangement for the Biden-Putin meeting planned to be held in June. The American administration attempts to reduce the tension felt in the international system by negotiating face-to-face diplomacy with its Russian counterparts. However, there is a need for a long and sincere dialogue process in order to establish a true peace environment between the parties.”

Coşkun BAŞBUĞ (Security and Terrorism Expert / Retired Intelligence Colonel)

Emphasizing that the Arctic Region is an area where a conflict has been evolving for decades, Security and Terror Expert Coşkun Başbuğ stated that “This is a place where the USA and Russia come face to face.  Two countries have attitudes towards the Arctic Region, as well as in other regions, blaming each other and wanting to impede each other’s policies. 80% of the region has a coast to Russia. Therefore, Russia increases its military presence in the region in order to protect its rights and it cares about the armament of the region. Likewise, the USA has significant plans for the region. Like Moscow, Washington aims to increase its military presence in the region. In the mentioned arms race, both countries blame each other. This vicious circle has worked somehow to the present day. With the recent events regarding Ukraine, there is a possibility of a new tension between the USA and Russia. Perhaps the new tension will take place over the Arctic Region. Because the events that will take place in the region will determine the US-Russia relations. In the meeting to be held between the two leaders, if both sides make statements that escalate the tension, it will negatively affect the talks to be held in the upcoming period. However, if there is a consensus in these talks, many policies, including the Black Sea strategies, will undoubtedly be changed between USA and Russia.

Başbuğ, who suggested that the Arctic Region will be talked about very often in the coming period, said that “The Arctic region is known with its underground resources. According to the official statistics of the World Trade Organization (WTO), 80% of the world trade is made by seaways. Leading actors such as the USA, Russia and China, who want to develop alternative routes to the aforementioned sea routes, are trying to open up space for themselves in this field. The melting glaciers in the Arctic Region with climate changes have expanded the maneuver area in the region. When everything taking into consideration, the value of the region has increased much more.”

Reminding the Arctic Council, which was established in 1996 with the Ottawa Declaration to support environmental protection, Başbuğ also stated that “The USA, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland contributed to this structure by taking part in the Council. Of the eight states, the main riparian ones are the USA, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark. These countries are called the ‘Arctic Five’. In addition to this, the region is so important that 13 countries located outside, such as China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France and England, closely follow the developments here as observers. It is obvious that the mentioned countries also have some plans for the Arctic Region.”

Emphasizing that both energy transmission companies and energy production companies pay attention to the region, Başbuğ also said that “Most of the natural resources in the region are in the territory of Russia. This situation provides a great advantage to Russia. The USA became neighbor and riparian in the region thanks to Alaska, which it bought from the Russians in 1867. He is trying to spread his rights arising from Alaska to the region. Therefore, the meeting in Iceland is extremely critical. Because it is the first face-to-face contact after the recent increasing tension between the USA and Russia.”

Lastly, Başbuğ stated that Russia is not a joke in the Arctic Region, just like in the Black Sea, and said that, “Russia will not hesitate to accumulate troops in the Arctic Region, as it is in Ukraine. Russia has advantages in terms of territory sovereignty. The USA will do its best to get the biggest share of the pie; but I think it will avoid being the side that escalates the tension. In this situation, it is necessary to foresee that Russia will react harder and the US will be the state that will take a step back.”

Onur ÖYMEN (Retired Ambassador)

Emphasizing that the statements made by both Blinken and Lavrov should not be overlooked before the meeting, retired Ambassador Onur Öymen also said that “Both politicians stated that they wanted to normalize the bilateral relations concerning the Arctic Region. However, as Biden said, the USA stated that if Russia pursues an aggressive policy, USA will respond in the same way. However, the current picture reveals that the both sides are in favor of initiating a dialogue in which common interests are pursued.”

Öymen lastly to said that, “The USA will establish a dialogue with Russia despite the actions which Moscow has done so far and Washington has reacted. These actions are the annexation of Crimea, the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s Syria policy. These policies have caused c deterioration between the USA and Russia in recent years and prevented the establishment of a real dialogue. Of course, Russia also has complaints about the USA. Despite all that happened, it can be said that mutual contact will be beneficial. Because common interests are also emphasized in the statements made. Therefore, there will be attempts to open a channel over common interests in bilateral relations. ”

Deniz Berktay (Journalist and Eastern Europe Expert)

Journalist Deniz Berktay said that “The meeting between Blinken and Lavrov in Rejkjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the first meeting of the two as Foreign Ministers. The meeting can be interpreted as a preparation for the meeting that is foreseen to be held by Biden and Putin in June 2021. As it is known, Biden advocated harsh policies against Russia before the elections. As a matter of fact, it has taken a stance in this direction after officially taking White House in January 2021. Characterizing Putin as a “murderer” in an interview reflects this policy. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalni’s return from Germany to Russia and his statements targeting Putin, his calling the masses to action, the preparations for new protest demonstrations by the opposition in Belarus in the spring, were developments to be considered in connection with Biden’s inauguration. However, the Moscow administration has revealed that it can resist the policies of the USA both in Russia and in many parts of the former Soviet geography. The tension between Russia and Ukraine in April 2021 was also a part of this situation. As it will be remembered, the USA, taking advantage of this crisis, decided to send warships to the Black Sea; but later he had to give up on it. We can say that the Biden administration, confronted with decisive attitude of the Kremlin, has started to back down.”

Berktay said that “Regarding the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, we can say that Lavrov speaks of constructive atmosphere. Although the differences of opinion between the USA and Russia continue, it is seen that the tone of the tension in the discourse has decreased. The Biden administration started to say that they wished relations with Russia were predictable after the tension in April. We can say that the meeting took place in a suitable atmosphere for this demand. It is also very significant that the Washington administration declares that it will not impose new sanctions on the Nord Stream-2 Project, which will export Russian natural gas directly to Germany from under the Baltic Sea by bypassing Eastern European countries. However, the meeting that will be decisive in the relations between the two countries is the meeting that is expected to be held at the level of leaders in the summer. In this sense, the Blinken-Lavrov meeting gave the signs that the tension will decrease in the coming period.

Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2021 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir. Halihazırda Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi'nde yüksek lisans eğitimini sürdürmektedir.