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Joe Biden's Russian roulette: He should cancel his coming summit with Putin

Joe Biden's Russian roulette: He should cancel his coming summit with Putin
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Joe BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE should cancel his upcoming summit with Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Overnight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin MORE. There is little chance of the American president scoring any significant diplomatic breakthroughs, and every chance he could embarrass himself. 

In fact, he already has.

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When Biden first proposed that the two leaders meet, in his second phone call with Putin, the Russian president was noncommittal. The hesitancy was humiliating, and unprecedented. America’s president should not beg for a summit with the leader of a rogue nation who clings to power via unstable oil revenues, crooked elections and criminal activities.

Biden arguably put himself in this position by calling out Putin as a “killer” in an interview aired a few weeks earlier. His infantile urge to separate himself from everything Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE, who allegedly was “soft” on Putin, required adopting a more confrontational posture with the Russian despot. Biden’s harsh (and undiplomatic) assessment caused Russia to “erupt in fury," according to The New York Times.

Putin does not take well to criticism. Remember that it was Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Hillary Clinton backs Manhattan DA candidate in first endorsement of year NSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison MORE calling out voter fraud in Russia that prompted years of retaliation from the Kremlin leader. Clinton has long claimed that Putin denied her a win in 2016; if indeed he bent the needle toward Trump, she can chalk it up to her own injudicious (but probably accurate) allegations.  

The same goes for Biden. If you want to “normalize” relations with an adversary, as the White House advocated, it’s foolish to lead with accusations of murder, however justified. 

After finally agreeing to a meeting time and place, Putin has gone out of his way to embarrass Biden.  

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By allowing (or encouraging) criminal elements in Russia to launch cyberattacks on the Colonial Pipeline, an important oil conduit in the U.S., and on JBS, a critical meat supplier, Putin has shown American defenses to be inadequate and our country to be vulnerable. Biden has denied Russian government participation in the ransomware attacks, but intelligence authorities suggest such activities take place only if Moscow turns a blind eye.  

These attacks on our country’s most essential goods have created temporary shortages and driven prices higher, causing headaches for Biden and real pain for U.S. consumers. Voters are furious that interruptions in Colonial’s gasoline supplies caused long lines at the pump leading up to Memorial Day, and that the shutting down of one-fifth of our beef-producing industry could cause already-rising steak prices to spike. 

Moreover, the shutdowns fed rising inflation, which has created a massive speed bump for Biden’s grandiose spending plans. Voters are beginning to connect the dots between the president’s $1.9 trillion excessive American Rescue Plan and the rising costs of everything from chicken to diapers. 

While Putin has been sabotaging the White House, how has the Biden administration prepared for the upcoming head-to-head? Perhaps to secure the meeting, or as a sign of good faith, the Biden team agreed to waive sanctions against the Russian-owned company building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany and its CEO, an ally of Putin and former East German Stasi intelligence officer. The pipeline will contribute significant revenues to Russia and further Europe’s dependence on Moscow. This act was assailed by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who rightly declared the capitulation to be a significant political victory for Putin.   

In contrast, Russia’s preparation for the summit includes Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, recently warning that “The Americans must assume that a number of signals from Moscow ... will be uncomfortable for them, including in the coming days.” Do hacks of important U.S. companies constitute “uncomfortable” signals? Will we see more of them in the next two weeks?  

The coming confab holds enormous risk for Biden. Putin is a strong, domineering personality and he is crafty. We have yet to see those traits in Biden. The Russian leader knows Biden is not trusted by his own communications people to engage in unscripted give-and-take, even with an obsequious press. You can be sure the Russian team will demand a lengthy joint press interview, which is unlikely to go well for the American president.

Putin will delight in putting Biden on the defensive. He could, for example, question the Biden family’s business affairs in Ukraine or ask why candidate Biden echoed dubious charges that Russia paid bounties to the Afghan Taliban for dead GIs. Challenging questions sometimes provoke Biden; an intemperate response could be disastrous.

Biden has promised to talk tough to the Russian strongman, especially about his military’s activities on the border of Ukraine, human rights and his alleged interference in U.S. elections. Presumably, Biden also will deliver a stern warning about further cyberattacks.

Putin will disregard such comments, knowing that Biden is unlikely to counter Russia’s bad behavior in any meaningful way. Though Biden imposed sanctions on Russia in mid-April, critics — including some Democrats in Congress — claim he could have gone much further.  

Echoing the foreign policy community, both Russian and U.S. officials have lowered expectations about the upcoming meeting, warning that not much of significance will emerge from the discussions.  

The Washington Post, setting up for positive coverage of a failed summit, writes that there is almost no credible bilateral agenda — no likely “deliverables” to come out of the meeting.    

If nothing of significance is to arise from the talks, why hold them? Biden has much to lose and not much to gain for playing diplomatic Russian Roulette. Canceling the meeting would show that he has a backbone and is not afraid to incur Putin’s inevitable wrath. That would be the better prize.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.