What do I dare tell Russia and the USA?

We welcome the return of quiet diplomacy to US-Russia relations, even if with a limited agenda. We must ‘learn to live with each other’

US President Joe Biden (left) meets Russian president Vladimir Putin (right) together with their foreign ministers
US President Joe Biden (left) meets Russian president Vladimir Putin (right) together with their foreign ministers

One of my personality traits as a Libran, like the scales that symbolise the sign, is a concern with attaining balance, harmony, peace, and justice in the world. As we meet to commemorate the meeting of Presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta in 1989, I need to be very balanced as I definitely cannot afford to offend both Russia and the United States at the same time.

More than ever, I need to keep a sense of proportion and perspective. Coming from tiny Malta with less than half a million people, 316sq.km, an economy of €12 billion and one of the smallest armies in the world, I face the combined power of the US and Russia with their 474 million people inhabiting 27 million sq.km with a $22 trillion economy – of which $690 billion go on military spending, capable of mobilising 6 million military personnel and deploying over 13,000 nuclear weapons.

I will seek refuge yet again in one of my favourite poets, the Russian Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who divided his time between Russia and the United States and loved them both while being critical of them. Before he died in April 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he felt very alarmed about rising tensions between Russia and the US. He used to say: “Russia has no future without America and America does not have a future without Russia and they must work together to solve pressing problems – disease, hunger, terrorism.”

To Yevtushenko’s words, I would only add that the world has no future without Russia and America and Russia and America have no future without the world. We are in the world together and we must all find ways of living together. Can we dare hope that this is possible? What would be the alternative?

The bilateral summit held in Geneva on June 16, 2021 between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin gives us hope that the two countries can improve relations between them and that a more sober relationship between Moscow and Washington is possible.

It is not realistic to expect a miraculous turnaround that would end all confrontation in the US-Russia relationship. But a return to discussions that are pragmatic, open, and realist in nature is very good news.

The presidents discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, including strategic stability, cybersecurity, diplomatic relations, and the Arctic. They seemed to have at least established a baseline for any future dialogue. It seems that through quiet diplomacy the hard work is going on to make this happen.

Breathing easier

One of the best outcomes of the Geneva summit was having Presidents Putin and Biden reiterating the Gorbachev-Reagan declaration that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The two sides are now working on what has been called “an integrated  Strategic Stability Dialogue”. This is a welcome news, given that the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) treaty is the sole remaining arms control agreement between the two nuclear powers. It is in the interest of the whole world that negotiations for what comes next need to begin at the earliest.

Also important for the US, Russia and all of us was their decision to work on cybersecurity. We used to have non-aggression pacts against traditional warfare. We need new agreements against cyber-warfare. We need to regulate the behaviour between states in this area to avoid escalations and misunderstandings that can only make things worse.

It is in the interest of the whole world, including the US and Russia that they establish a more stable, predictable relationship instead of the sharp confrontation they have been engaging in over the past years. Both the US and Russia are still able to influence regional and global developments and stable relations between them is healthy for the international system.

In 2020 leading Russian and American personalities had published an open letter to the US and Russian President warning that the “US-Russia relations are at a dangerous dead end”, and there was a need for a “change of our current course” to “diminish the risk of a catastrophic conflict.”

The identification of pockets of cooperation also offers a space for all of us in the rest of the world to deal with the challenges resulting from an unstable and highly polarised international order. Even micro-states like us will benefit from this as we seek to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy based on national interests, and who would like to have cordial relations with  both the US and Russia.

What has been called the move forward from an “irrational relationship” to a more “rational confrontation” is a reassuring development. We welcome the return of quiet diplomacy to US-Russia relations, even if with a limited agenda. We must “learn to live with each other”.

It would help all of us to breathe easier in the chaotic turbulence ongoing in the global order. Human history has become more and more a race between coexistence and catastrophe.