Meeting With Russia’s President – Something to Look Forward To
Vice President Joe Biden is in the spotlight now. With the release of the recording of his private telephone conversation with the Russian Ambassador, a question has been raised as to whether Joe Biden may have jeopardized our relationship with Russia. Was this discussion, or maybe even the idea of such a conversation, inappropriate? Has Joe Biden caused more damage to our already tenuous relationship with the Russian government? The entire situation seems rather ugly and embarrassing to say the least. But can Joe Biden survive this political firestorm?
First, it’s important to understand where the Vice President is going. He’s going to the Vatican to meet with the Pope. This meeting will be a private one, no aides, no press allowed, and he will dine with the Pope and have a private audience. In fact, the very idea that the Vice President is going to have a private dinner with the Pope is already causing some concern within the US Mission there. Some are worried that the meeting might cause a misperception among ordinary folks that the Vice President is feeding news to the Russians about the inner workings of US-Russian relations.
While the Vice President is not meeting personally with the Russian Ambassador, he is making an official State visit. This means that he is also traveling on an airplane with an escort. Whether or not Joe is wearing an “unofficial” shirt bearing the Vatican seal, it’s safe to assume that the Secret Service has him covered. A big secret from the beginning was that the Russians are well aware that the Vice President is in Rome, and they also made sure the escort that accompanied Vice President Biden throughout his trip also had Russian connections.
Does this visit give the US a more solid foothold in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and does this visit also serve to bolster America’s standing as a beacon to the rest of the world? This meeting with the Pope is a historic one. It is a first encounter between an American President and a Pope. When Joe Biden meets the Pope, there will be a historic opportunity for the two leaders to express their strong shared faith in each other’s Christianity. Perhaps more importantly, perhaps not so much in the belief that one can talk sense into a stubborn Russian President, but rather in the belief that the US has a lot to offer the Catholic Church, which is now facing issues similar to those plaguing Russian society in the recent past.
The Pope, in recent years, has displayed a softer side towards his Russian counterpart
There have been personal talks, and some even say that the Pope has softened his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he has also expressed hope that relations can be restored. Reports have suggested that Russia may use Pope’s meetings to soften its stance on the war in Ukraine, or to try and make the Pope more willing to mediate a deal between Russia and the Ukrainian government. This would certainly be a positive step forward in improving American-RUS relations.
However, as Joe Biden embarks on this visit – which also includes a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi – Russia must also decide what to do about its own domestic problems. Although the Pope is not a man who goes into politics looking to score political points, there has been a certain tilt towards accommodating Germany and Italy in their own relations with Russia. In fact, on the same day that the US President met the Russian President, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, passed a bill granting compensation to relatives of people killed in Chechnya by terrorists. The bill has caused uproar in the US and has drawn criticism from both the State Department and the European Union. Soeren Berezsky, the head of the Right Sector, an international far right organization, told me on the phone that “the Russians never cared about the relatives of those killed in Chechnya – it’s a complete double standards and the Pope is not going to stand up to them.”
During his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, the US President was quoted as saying that he thought the meeting went well and that he looks forward to future discussions between the two nations. However, Russia’s new president, Mr. Dmitry Medvedev, said during a meeting with officials from the Vatican, “We cannot talk about bilateral issues at this stage. We have to concentrate on fighting terrorism and other national challenges which face our country.” There is no doubt that Russia is a major force in the Middle East, supporting President Bush in Iraq and helping to enforce the UN sanctions on Iraq. However, as the US pushes for more aggressive efforts against International Terrorism, Russia may find itself increasingly isolated – and even pick up arms to fight the “outsiders” al Qaeda, Taliban and Hezbollah – an obvious sign that the US is losing the containment struggle and that containment is no longer an option. Therefore, when Joe Biden meets the Russian leader to discuss further cooperation – it could be the beginning of a new cold war.
As we look ahead to the next administration, the US will have to be careful to make sure that it does not turn inward and become more isolated
The unfortunate reality is that US-Russian relations have declined to such a low point that they are uncharacteristic of previous Administrations – especially for a region that is so important to our nation. At the same time, Russia is facing tough sanctions from the United Nations and the European Union for its actions in Georgia and Ukraine – actions that, ironically, come at a time when Russia has reaped much praise for its strong stance in dealing with the growing global problem of Global Warming. No matter what happens between the US and Russia in the next two to three years, we can be assured that the world is changing and reacting to circumstances – and that the US needs to change with it or be left behind in a post-modern era.