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Biden needs Putin more than Putin needs Biden: Analyst

President Biden and Russian President Putin are meeting today in Geneva for the much-anticipated summit. American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Elisabeth Braw joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript


AKIKO FUJITA: But we are three hours and counting, that crucial meeting between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin well underway in Geneva. Those images there, right before the meeting earlier today. Putin's crackdown on opposition leaders, one of the issues President Biden expected to raise, as well as a big focus on cyber attacks, with Russian groups allegedly behind recent attacks against the Colonial Pipeline, SolarWinds, and JBS meatpacking plant, just to name a few.

Let's bring in Elisabeth Braw, American Enterprise Institute resident fellow. And Elisabeth, it's good to talk to you today. Both sides really set the bar low going into the meeting in terms of the deliverables that could come out of it. What's the measure of success?

ELISABETH BRAW: I think nice and pleasant words afterwards and no scorn from Vladimir Putin. We'll remember the summit three years ago between Trump and Putin, where it ended disastrously, really, with America, with Trump criticizing his own country and siding with Putin. So as long as the two sides stay civil and don't embarrass their respective countries, I think that will count as a success.

And Putin, of course, we should remember is the veteran of the two in this game. Biden has been in foreign policy for a long time but not as president.

JARED BLIKRE: Elisabeth, I'm always interested to watch the press conferences and read about it afterwards. Vladimir Putin is kind of famous for making people wait. That's one of the dynamics there. What do you think we're going to learn later today?

ELISABETH BRAW: We'll probably learn that Biden made an earnest appeal to Putin to rein in the cyber attacks, to treat the opposition activists well. And we'll probably get footage of Putin in this sort of skeptical pose that he often strikes, encouraging the other leader, or essentially forcing the other leader to plead with him to get various things out of him, various not very demanding things out of him because, we should remember also this time, Biden needs Putin more than Putin needs Biden.

Biden needs Russia to at least remain or at least behave in a less aggressive fashion because Biden's biggest foreign policy challenge, Biden's biggest national security challenge is China. It's no longer Russia.

AKIKO FUJITA: That's an interesting take there, Elisabeth. We're talking about this in the context of cyber attacks. But really, there's a lot of Russian activity all over online, cyber attacks just one, the disinformation campaign another, election meddling another one as well. To what extent can the US really hold Russia accountable?

Sanctions certainly haven't worked. There's been other measures against Russia. And yet, we continue to see these reports coming out of the country.

ELISABETH BRAW: That's exactly the challenge. So what do you do if you're the US or any other Western country and Russia or criminal groups operating from Russia, but clearly with the knowledge of the Russian government, what if those groups engage in cyberattacks against your country, which is exactly what's happening now?

The US can't exactly encourage or condone criminal groups operating from US soil, such criminal groups engaging in cyber aggression against Russia. That would not be appropriate for a liberal democracy. But yet, that is what Western democracies, liberal democracies have to deal with.

So it's really difficult to know how to respond to this aggression and to punish it because these are real national security challenges. As we all know, lots of people were unable to drive after the Colonial Pipeline incident because the pipeline itself was shut down. And then people panicked, causing other people to not find gas anywhere. So it's really difficult.

But the point is that Russia is the lesser concern compared to China because US companies, Western companies more generally, are not this tied in with Russia as they are with China. They are not as dependent on Russia as they are on China. And so to tackle this really enormous challenge which is China, Biden, the US, and the West in general need Russia to at least not be as aggressive as it has been until now.

So Biden and can really only plead with Putin and announce some punishment that shouldn't be too severe because then Putin won't be minded to do anything nice in return.

AKIKO FUJITA: Do you think Putin's seeking out of this meeting? If on the US side, it is about trying to keep Russia at bay at a time when China is increasingly-- or the US increasingly sees China as a competitor as well as a threat, what's the calculation on the Russian side?

ELISABETH BRAW: What Putin wants is the West to not respond forcefully against what is called the gray zone aggression that Russia engages in. So he needs the West to remain relatively passive, to not punish the greater aggression, and in particular, not to interfere in what he considers and what Russians consider domestic matters. So he doesn't want Biden and other Western leaders to punish Russia for its treatment of the Alexei Navalny and others.

It also doesn't want-- [AUDIO OUT]

JARED BLIKRE: Elisabeth, when it comes to Russia--

- --punish Russia Belarus may engage in against commercial Western operators-- so it's two wants. He too will want his counterpart to be passive. He doesn't want a friend. He doesn't need a friend. I don't think he knows what friends are. But he wants a passive and compliant Putin, I think, in this meeting and in future meetings.

JARED BLIKRE: Elisabeth Braw, American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, thank you for joining us today. After the break, we're going to talk to Proterra. And guess what. They are an EV company that is coming to market after 17 years.