Over the past year, this blog has covered almost every negotiation issue. The 2021 international meeting between U. S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed all of the baseline negotiation issues. The term “baseline negotiation” is used because this meeting was not spectacular but was rated excellent, partially in contrast to the past four years during which the U.S. was more adversarial than in the negotiation mood.
The Biden/Put meet was excellent in the:
- Planning: It was arranged that Putin would arrive first to overcome his chronic lateness issue. It seems as if Putin has used being late to meet with national leaders as a power tactic. At one point, he kept the German Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for 4 hours.
- Strategy: Biden and Putin held separate news conferences to avoid any awkward or unexpected moments.
- Agreement: Both Biden and Putin felt “good” after the meeting stating it had been “constructive."
Below is an analysis of the classic negotiation components:
PLANNING: A large component of planning is to decide on what strategies will be used.
Biden seemingly decided to pursue classic negotiation by being surrounded by experts. He also decided to solidify allies first, including the G7 (Group of Seven=Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and EU (European Union). So, he was able to approach Putin with a united front.
Putin is sometimes described like a shark swimming, looking for weak spots. Putin pursued the strategy of “whataboutism.” He compared Russia’s imprisoning adversaries to the US January 6, 2021 “insurrection” and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Most consider this to be a false equivalency.
Another Putin strategy is to “divide and conquer” in regards to the G7 or NATO.
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright offered her analysis on MSNBC's Morning Joe (June 17, 2021). She called this “classic multi-lateral and bi-lateral negotiations.” Armed with NATO (National Atlantic Treaty Organization), the EU (European Union), and British renewed relationships, Biden was not alone in these negotiations, although Putin seemed to be. Biden was also armed with experience and surrounded with experts.
Biden seemingly placed himself “in the shoes of Putin.” Putin lives in a delusional world where he must show Russians that he is a great leader.
Was just holding the summit a “win” for Putin? Albright declared that Russia and the U.S. are on the same stage whether the U.S. likes it or not. “U.S. must engage.” This summit could be seen as “just the beginning of Biden/Putin contacts.”
POWER: Both Biden and Putin had to re-assess their power bases going into this negotiation.
How did Biden do it? First, he spent time restoring the American relationship with European allies. Even though Biden had been critical of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the past, calling him “a Trump clone,” Biden put this aside and reset his relationship with the PM.
Second, he re-established America’s relationship with NATO.
Biden wanted to reaffirm the democracy-strengthening purpose of his European trip. Seemingly, Europe bought into Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan.
In this way, when Biden encountered Putin, Biden was actually representing the EU and NATO.
Another source of power for Biden is his longevity in U.S. politics. Beyond serving several terms as a U.S. Senator, he was also President Barack Obama’s Vice President for 8 years.
Putin’s power emanates partially from his being an autocrat: seemingly all powerful in Russia. He has defeated via killing, imprisoning most of his adversaries, and seemingly suffers no repercussions because of these actions.
Putin’s longevity in Russian politics is also a source of power. He has been President since 2012 and was Pesident between 1999 and 2008. He is a former KGB (English translation is Committee for State Security) Foreign Intelligence Officer.
Although polls in an autocratic country are most likely unreliable, Putin’s popularity seems to hover around 65%, according to a supposed neutral source (NGO Levada Center). This is the highest of any national leader in the world. Even though some doubt this, this figure is tossed about by the media.
Putin’s or Russia’s relationship with China is also part of his power. The U.S. views China as a competitor. Russia may view China as a partner.
PERSUASION LAW OF VERBAL PACKAGING: Although a picture may be worth a thousand words, words matter. What terms are used is called “verbal packaging.
Often the Western media will talk about “Russian containment.” Russians don’t like this term or comment.
Western media often declares that Putin “craves” respect. This is most irritating to Putin.
Former Ambassador Michael McFaul does not like “normalcy” or “worthy opponent.” He noted that Biden has called Putin “a killer,” so how can he be a worthy opponent which is the term Biden used.
BODY LANGUAGE: Putin seems to be a master of body language. He is often pictured slouching or sullen, signifying disrespect and superiority.
Bill Maher of Real Time (6/18/21) declared that pictures tell the real story. He characterized the Biden/Putin meeting as very tense. He declared the pictures reminded him of a married couple together after a bitter argument.
EXPECTATIONS: Both Putin and Biden lowered expectations. Merely showing up seemed to be the only expectation. No deliverables were expected.
Biden wanted to make the relationship predictable and to stop the further decline of the situation.
Both Biden and Putin expected to find commonalities, such as cybersecurity, climate change, and nuclear, Iran on which they could cooperate.
Biden: "On the whole, we spoke the same language and that doesn’t mean we have to look into each other’s eyes."
GOALS: The time to think about the agreement is in the planning. Biden stated that his goal was to create “strategic dialogue” that matters. “It is not about trust, but self-interest and verification.” Biden desires a predictable and stable relationship between the two countries.
CNN Reporter Peter Baker asserted that maybe the goal was simply to ensure that the situation with Russia did not get worse.
Biden: "The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by."
In considering negotiation goals, it is valuable to know the aspirational goals. For Biden, he wants to create a world that is more receptive to democracies. For Putin, he has declared many times that the worse act during the past decades has been the demise of the U.S.S.R. His dream seems to be to somehow recreate this federation and regain the power.
(USSR is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans, 1922-1991, that spanned Asia and Europe.)
PERSUASION LAW OF CONTRAST: Surely the law of contrast and comparison comes to play leading to most believing the Biden European trip was a success. Biden embraced NATO and the EU; whereas, Trump maligned them. He was highly critical of the new NATO building! Biden clearly sees Putin as an adversary, whereas Trump had a most curious relationship with Putin. Some even believe that Putin assisted in defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Post-conference, Putin called Biden “a professional,” seemingly meaning that Biden is stable and predictable-somebody with whom he can do business. Putin calls Biden a career politician.
In contrast, Putin described former President Donald Trump as “colorful and new.” Putin declares that Trump is not from “big time” politics or “the establishment.”
The summit in Switzerland, known as the “peace,” country was designed to contrast the Trump/Putin Helsinki meeting.
CNN Reporter Peter Baker wondered if the goal was simply for Biden to say that “I am not Trump.”
THREATS OR CONSEQUENCES: Most negotiation experts advise against threatening. People do not like to deal with those who threaten. Threats create a hostile environment.
Threats may be viewed differently than consequences. Effective negotiators are not afraid to talk about consequences.
Biden stated that the U.S. has “significant cyber power.” He asked Putin what would happen if Russian gas or oil were cyber attacked. Putin declared this would “matter.” Biden presented a list of 16 sector in the US that would be “out of bounds” and “off limits” when it came to cyber attacks.
Biden also warned that if the opposition leader lawyer Alexei Nevalny dies in prison, this would be dire for Russia and the world's relationship. If Navalny dies in prison “the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia and further ruin Putin’s credibility."
Biden: "If he chooses not to cooperate, we will respond.
BENCHMARKS OF SUCCESS: Some say that the benchmarks to measure the successes of this meeting might be what does not happen. This means fewer cyber attacks that can be traced to Russia. Maybe even partnership against cyber attacks. This means no more incursions into other countries such as was done in Georgia and Crimea. Maybe fewer close encounters between planes and ships. Lastly, maybe even less partnering between Russia and China, although this would be aspirational.
They did agree to set up a joint cyber security group.
Although not really considered to be a deliverable, they did agree to return their ambassadors to their respective posts in Moscow and Washington, D.C. Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov and U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan have been absent from their posts for some time which seems to be dangerous during times of great tension. They often serve as the front lines of diplomacy.
Even though the meeting only lasted about 3 hours, instead of the possible 5, both Biden and Putin were pleased at the end. Biden was on a quest to understand the differences and build the groundwork for future discussions. Putin called the meeting “very constructive.” Biden asserted that he accomplished what he came there to do. Biden emphasized that this was not a “kumbaya moment.”
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Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
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Getting Your Way Every Day.