Boris Kalyagin: “There are opportunities to start real negotiations between Moscow and Washington”
The formation of the team of the new US president, Joe Biden, continues. In particular, 42-year-old Jennifer Psaki has returned to the White House this week. She has been widely known to Russians since she represented the US State Department under Barack Obama and became famous for a number of blunders during the period of strained US-Russian relations. Whether Psaki is a Russophobe, why Biden remembered her, what his international policy will be, and whether there is a chance to unfreeze US-Russian relations — Boris Kalyagin, a well-known Americanist, Soviet journalist and expert in international relations, staff reporter at Gosteleradio in the United States in the 1980s, argues in the interview with Realnoe Vremya.
“Biden wanted to emphasise the breadth of his views”
Mr Kalyagin, Joseph Biden is forming a team in the US which includes many women — this is Kamala Harris, and Janet Yellen, and now Jennifer Psaki. What is the reason for inviting her?
First of all, the future US President Biden wanted to emphasize the breadth of his views, the breadth of choices that he wants to make in the course of his activities. In general, we can highlight such an interesting fact — after Joseph Biden officially becomes the president of the United States, we can say that America has chosen the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, and this is also interesting because the Catholic faith will definitely play a role in conducting Biden's domestic policy.
The issues of faith were one of the themes of Biden's campaign, and the fact that he decided to recruit women to his team also has something to do with the issues of the future president's faith.
As for Psaki — yes, in Russia, she is accused of making several mistakes in her speeches, but we can treat this with irony because these mistakes are trifles, and most importantly — the essence of the speeches. Certainly, Psaki is a person who is very critical of Russia — however, like the entire team that Biden is recruiting, and if the team is such, Psaki is quite suitable for it.
Who could choose Psaki to be the president's press secretary?
I think that this is to some extent the choice of Biden himself, since he has previously recruited many women to his circle, emphasising, apparently, because of religious judgments, that it is necessary to pay more attention and importance to the role of women in politics and in governing the country. As a result, Biden attracted a lot of attention from the American population.
What role can Psaki's work under Biden play in relations with Russia?
The White House press secretary, if he or she is an educated person with a sense of humour, plays a fairly significant role, because on many important issues such person should speak with humour and try to accurately convey the point of view of his boss.
As for Psaki, I don't think she is a Russophobic woman and personally is set up for anti-Russian policy — in those years when Psaki was the press secretary of the State Department, her statements on Russia were needed to please the top of the United States and her direct boss, the president. In general, there is no evidence of a lack of some knowledge, Jennifer Psaki has a good language, she is a good talker, and Biden, I think, chose her primarily for this quality.
Can we say that the press secretary is her official ceiling and that she will not have any influence on the president?
I think, yes, the future post for Jen is really a ceiling, because Psaki is not an independent politician and she could hardly represent the United States in the UN or in the UN Security Council. Interpreting the boss's words is her current ceiling, and God grant that she will successfully cope with it first of all.
In general, there is no evidence of a lack of some knowledge, Jennifer Psaki has a good language, she is a good talker, and Biden, I think, chose her primarily for this quality
“Trump's vulgarity alienated the intelligentsia and youth”
Will Biden expand the female presence in his administration until January 20?
The women's circle is still quite wide for Biden, but I think that he will introduce several women to his team — perhaps, he will appoint some as ambassadors.
How influential can Biden's wife, Jill Biden, be in making decisions for Biden?
It is difficult to say, since Biden's wife has not shown herself in any way before, but I fully assume that she will play a significant role in Biden's policy.
A month after the election, you can already understand why Biden won the presidential race? Is it the mistakes of his rival, Donald Trump, or Biden is lucky?
The thing is that Donald Trump managed to turn against himself a significant part of American society — the same intelligentsia that did not like his vulgar behaviour, the behaviour of a merchant.
Certainly, Trump did a lot to show the country the importance of the middle class, the importance of those who are engaged in real work — in the same agriculture, in production, demanded that businessmen return capital back to the United States, and this work of Trump benefited very many segments of the US population — primarily the working population.
But the very vulgarity of Trump in communication, a mercantile attitude to many issues repelled the other part of the population — the intelligentsia and young people, so Trump lost.
So, young people and intellectuals had a greater influence on the choice of Americans in 2020?
I would say a significant influence. You saw what happened in the United States in the summer — the country was split because of the actions of the police, and second, many people were dissatisfied with the social situation in the country, the contradictions between the black and white population, between Americans and newcomers from the same Latin America — all these caught the eye and now continue to. All these things led to the discontent of young people with Trump, and young people were very active against Trump, hence the defeat of Trump.
Biden blamed Trump for his administration's poor handling of the coronavirus epidemic. Did the pandemic affect Trump's defeat?
Trump, apparently, did not attach any great value to the onset of coronavirus, but when he saw that the infection is still a significant thing, then remembered, but it was somewhat later, and of course, opponents used the Trump's mistake used against him very actively.
Donald Trump managed to turn against himself a significant part of American society — the same intelligentsia that did not like his vulgar behaviour, the behaviour of a merchant
“There are opportunities to start real negotiations between Moscow and Washington”
In the summer and autumn, many political analysts said that in connection with the protests and election results that do not suit the losing side, a civil war may begin in the United States. Now everything looks peaceful. Is a threat of serious conflicts in the United States gone?
The fact that relations in American society have become tense is certainly true, and this situation cannot go away so easily and will manifest itself in the near future — especially if we are talking about the relationship between black and white people.
Certainly, if the Democrats come to power, they will take special steps to somehow calm the relations between blacks and whites, but this issue cannot be completely eliminated — the reasons are deeper, they lie in the social plane, and the Democrats will have to take all this into account in their domestic policy.
Many people are interested in what steps Biden will take in relation to Russia. Can it be some tough decisions, a desire to pursue a tough policy?
Of course, during the election campaign, Biden was distinguished by tough anti-Russian speeches, but I think that there are opportunities to start real negotiations between Moscow and Washington. Many people now recall that under Obama, when Biden was Vice President, he participated in negotiations on disarmament, and I think that such negotiations can resume.
It is obvious that Biden understands the need to extend the New START treaty — although he has very little time left to correct the situation (the electors will vote on the president's confirmation on December 14, Biden will take up his duties as President on January 20, and the New START treaty ends on February 5), but, as you know, President Putin proposed to extend the treaty for at least a year, without conditions, in order to negotiate a new treaty and freeze nuclear arsenals for this year, and this opens up chances for concluding a treaty on further disarmament of our countries' nuclear capabilities.
Of course, Biden can make demands under the new contract, but I think that the opportunity to sign a new contract soon remains — although 16 days for this is very small — for the opportunity to sign the treaty for ten years, but it is quite possible to extend without any additions.
Besides, Biden can return to the United States the Treaty on Open Skies (the treaty that allows unarmed reconnaissance vehicles to fly over the territory of the countries that signed it — editor's note), from which the Americans withdrew under Trump, but which is actively supported by the US European allies. Another important factor that I would pay attention to is that during the election campaign, Biden said that America spends too much money on maintaining military bases abroad, and it is very good for Russia if Biden talks about this.
In general, I think that in some ways, as in the case of the New START, our relations will improve and worsen in some ways. It is clear that Biden will pay more attention to Ukraine, maybe to Belarus.
Another important factor that I would pay attention to is that during the election campaign, Biden said that America spends too much money on maintaining military bases abroad, and it is very good for Russia if Biden talks about this
“Biden took part in negotiations with Russia, and this will not be forgotten by him or us”
Will the US continue to impose sanctions on Russia? After all, the current sanctions were imposed by the administration in which Biden worked.
The sanctions policy cannot go away so immediately, and I do not rule out that in 2021 the Americans will come up with something in this area, but the fact that the possibility of negotiations between our countries has already begun will create a favourable atmosphere for all other areas in our countries' relations, and I think that this possibility remains — after all, Biden was very active in normalising relations with Russia under Obama.
But here he takes Anthony Blinken in his team — the author of the idea of sanctions against Russia. Can't this fact be unsettling?
Yes, while Blinken pursues, one might say, a Russophobic policy, but he can also change over time: after all, much will depend on Biden himself — he will determine the overall policy, and if Biden understands that a certain normalisation of relations with Russia is in the interests of the United States, then I think he will come to this normalisation. In principle, Trump, of course, understood these things, but the Congress was actively opposed to him, and the attitude of the Congress to the new president will be much better.
One of the most difficult points on the geopolitical map of the world is Belarus. How did Biden will express himself in relation to it? We already know that he invited to his inauguration the former candidate in presidents of the country Svetlana Tikhanovski — what does this mean? About any serious intentions of the US towards Lukashenko?
I don't think Biden can do much about Belarus. Here in Ukraine it will be easier to exercise his influence — there's plenty of influential segments of the society played for the deterioration of relations with Russia and a greater attitude in the direction of relations with the US and the EU, and in Belarus this is not — yes, Lukashenko alienated students and youth, but the bulk of the population occupies a neutral position, so Biden will not be able to exert some influence on events in Belarus. And how much does he care about Belarus now? For example, I don't understand it at all. Yes, Biden can somehow influence the situation in Belarus through Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic States, but what else can he do if Belarus does not have, for example, such a multi-party parliament as in Ukraine? Just a little.
Can it be an observation and a statement on the situation, not more?
Most likely, Biden will observe the events in Belarus — especially since Europeans are already taking a more active part there.
Does the Kremlin's restrained reaction to Biden's election suggest that they hope that the period of cold relations may slow down, or is this conclusion too naive?
I think that if Moscow behaves with restraint, it means that it believes that there are still opportunities to start real negotiations, primarily on disarmament, and this is of fundamental importance. If such negotiations start, it will have an impact on other areas of our relations with the United States.
If the New START treaty, under which at least something can be controlled in relations between the United States and Russia, disappears, the possibility of other agreements will disappear, and everything will have to start over. But I think this will not happen. After all, Biden took part in negotiations with Russia, and this will not be forgotten by him or us.