Two recent moves on Moscow’s side suggest that the encounter in Geneva will mark the start of a long and welcome process.  

Geneva, with Lake Geneva in background. (Alexey M, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Curious it was to read that the Russian judiciary ruled last Wednesday that Alexei Navalny’s political network is an extremist movement. Its members should be grateful that the courts recognized it as a movement, given Navalny’s nationwide support has never exceeded 3 percent or so, but on paper they are now liable to arrest and prosecution and, if convicted of one or another charge, could be fined or imprisoned.

There have been no arrests, so far as has been reported. But think of all those chances Western intel agencies and their clerks in the press may now have to lionize a new cohort of oppositionists as Navalny’s heroic followers. Let us not forget, a kooky poseur journalist named Oleg Kashin had the nerve to call Navalny “Russia’s true leader” in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

There is no limit to the silliness in all matters Russian, it seems. At least not at the Times.

I say “curious” because, in the ordinary conduct of statecraft as we have had it for the past seven decades, the Moscow’s court’s ruling, exactly a week prior to President Joe Biden’s first summit with President Vladimir Putin, would have to be counted obtuse. Wouldn’t minding one’s manners — especially given that the Navalny network’s significance resides solely in the minds and news pages of Western propagandists — be the wise course?

I don’t think so. I have no clue as to the independence or otherwise of the Russian judiciary, but it is unthinkable the Russian leader did not know in advance of what the courts were about to determine. I think Russia was indeed minding its manners — a different and altogether more honorable set of manners than American pols and diplomats have exhibited lo these many decades.

In a sensible read, the court ruling was a calculated gesture in response to Biden’s commitment, announced during a Memorial Day speech, to confront Putin in Geneva on June 16 with the question of human rights in the Russian Federation. “We will not stand by and let him abuse those rights,” saith the man from Scranton.

We will not stand by, Moscow replied in so many words, as you grandstand at Russia’s expense. Recall in this connection, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has lately made it a habit to note that Moscow is monitoring human rights in the U.S. since the Jan. 6 protests at the Capitol. “We have no taboo topics,” Lavrov said in evident response to Biden’s speech. “We will discuss whatever we think is necessary.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and President Vladimir Putin meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 2017. (President of Russia)

It would be very wrong to take this matter as a passing spat as the Russian and American presidents find their feet with one another. In my view, the court judgment last week and Lavrov’s remarks on human rights as a two-way street make the Geneva encounter far more important than it may have otherwise turned out to be.

Five Principles

To understand this, we must go back and back and back some more until we reach the early 1950s, when newly independent India and newly socialist China were working out how two very large neighbors ought best to conduct their relations. It was while negotiating a bilateral agreement on this question in 1953 that Zhou Enlai, Mao’s cultured, subtle, farsighted premier, first articulated his Five Principles, the ethical code by which the People’s Republic would conduct its relations with all nations.

These were incorporated into the Sino–Indian Agreement of 1954 and have been justifiably well-known since. Note that four of the five have to do with respectful conduct and parity:

– Mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty;

– Mutual nonaggression;

– Noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations;

– Equality and mutual benefit among nations;

– Peaceful coexistence.

A year after New Delhi and Beijing signed their accord, Zhou’s principles were reiterated at the historically monumental conference of nonaligned nations Sukarno hosted at an Indonesian hill station called Bandung. When the Non–Aligned Movement was formally constituted six years after that, the Five Principles effectively became the non–West’s statement — of aspiration, of intent — to the West: This is what we have to offer the postcolonial world, the NAM said in so many words. This is our contribution to a new and peaceable world order. This is how we will manage our relations with others.

The Grand Mosque of Bandung, Indonesia, with its twin minarets, adjacent to the city square in Asia-Afrika Street, 2008. (Prayudi Setiadharma, Wikimedia Commons)

The United States never had any time for the NAM. As readers of a certain age will recall, it dismissed the movement, with-us-or-against-us style, as a badly dressed bunch of crypto–Communists or Soviet dupes. The decades since are an easy lesson in why Washington took this utterly awful position: It has not once, not in any given year, observed even one of Zhou’s principles. It has always, in any given year, abused all five.

Vladimir Putin

One may admire or detest Vladimir Putin, but he is undeniably possessed of an excellent grasp of history, as many of his speeches attest. I doubt he thinks very specifically about the NAM or Zhou’s principles, but, without naming them, these are what he will have on the table when he meets Joe Biden.

This is the meaning of the oddly timed court judgment against Navalny’s apparatus and the message Lavrov conveyed in response to Biden’s Memorial Day speech: Internal affairs are to be resolved internally.

Geneva will mark the start of a long and welcome process. Its importance will lie in its formalization of a stance Russia — and China, too — have adopted since those two catastrophically stupid mistakes Biden and Secretary of State Blinken made last March, when Biden called Putin a murderer and tin-eared Blinken hollowly lectured the Chinese about human rights and democracy.

President Joe Biden in Oval Office, April 27. (White House, Adam Schultz)

Beijing and Moscow have ever since stiffened their backs toward the U.S., giving as good as they get on all the questions with which Washington customarily browbeats others.

If we have begun a process, where will it lead? In my read to an excellent place, where nations mind the better set of manners noted above — Zhou Enlai’s manners, let us say.

Before this century is out, and very possibly before the midway mark, Zhou’s Five Principles stand to become the norm in international relations. Zhou’s true topic was parity between West and non–West. This will be achieved, and strange it is that the opening months of the Biden administration have opened us to this salutary prospect. The U.S. will otherwise lead us all into an egregiously messy period of history, and I do not think rising powers — Russia, China, India, others — will find this acceptable.

One other matter must be clarified as Geneva approaches.

I do not know the merits of the case against Navalny or, since last week, the ruling against his followers. But I have always found it curious that The New York Times and the other major dailies recite as rote that Navalny and his people consider the two charges of embezzlement (and the two convictions)  that put him in jail in the first place to be “trumped up” or “politically motivated.” Why doesn’t the Times’ Moscow bureau do the gumshoe work and inform readers whether or not this is so?

True, Times’ Moscow correspondents are among the worst in my lifetime, but this kind of kabuki requires one to consider carefully whether the charges are indeed legitimate. My read: The legal case against Navalny probably holds water, and the American press uses the power of omission to avoid acknowledging this. 

Pitiful, if this is the case.  

The larger point here: We must learn to put all such questions aside in contexts such as we have now in U.S.–Russia relations. Anyone who has ever been in a Marxist reading group knows the importance of distinguishing between primary and secondary contradictions. Let us not forget the essential lesson, no matter anyone’s political stripe. 

What is the primary contradiction here? It is Washington’s refusal to observe the principles of noninterference and sovereignty, and it is vital far, far beyond bilateral relations that Russia defends these. The Navalny case and the associated matter of human rights are, plainly and simply, a secondary contradiction — and one it is imperative to leave to Russians to resolve.

Geneva in June, a rather nice place to be. Let us see if Biden and Putin mind their manners — and whose manners these turn out to be.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

10 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The US-Russia Summit

  1. Eric
    June 15, 2021 at 23:34

    “My read: The legal case against Navalny probably holds water,
    and the American press uses the power of omission to avoid acknowledging this.”

    I suspect you would reach a similar conclusion about Nicaragua’s arrest of Cristiana Chamorro
    on charges of money laundering, which the NYT and the rest of the mainstream media
    have cited as evidence of a growing dictatorship in this Troika of Tyranny member.
    That Chamorro runs a foundation that has received millions of dollars from the U.S.
    regime-change machine (excellently documented by Covert Action magazine)
    does not enter the reportage. Her refusal to account for the millions she gets
    likewise is not of media interest.

  2. June 15, 2021 at 18:18

    Patrick, its generally true that the USA was very uninterested in NAM. In fact it was partly created as a reaction to Foster Dulles’ diplomacy. But John Kennedy, as senator and president, WAS interested in the group. He also tried to change policy toward its members, for example in Indonesia. This is something that the member nations’ leaders–Nasser, Nehru, Sukarno–very much acknowledged and appreciated. To read up on it, there are two good books on this, one by Robert Rakove, and one by Philip Muehlenbeck.

  3. John V. Walsh
    June 15, 2021 at 13:40

    The author offers us an important reminder of a principle that is not only upheld by Marxists when he says,” The larger point here: We must learn to put all such questions aside in contexts such as we have now in U.S.–Russia relations. Anyone who has ever been in a Marxist reading group knows the importance of distinguishing between primary and secondary contradictions. Let us not forget the essential lesson, no matter anyone’s political stripe.”
    Stepping back a bit let us remember what is the main contradiction in the world today? It is not about democracy or “human rights,” nor socialism versus capitalism.
    It is the drive for Western domination and US hegemony which is in conflict with the great mass of humanity for a better life and the desire of peoples and countries for genuine sovereignty. Putin has reminded us that few countries in the world have true sovereignty, China and Russia being two of them.
    For a fuller statement of this view, please see: hXXps://

  4. vinnieoh
    June 15, 2021 at 12:42

    Patrick: Like Jeff below, I’m more dubious about the prospects than you are. Not impossible (anything is possible,) but it will take herculean determination not to be dragged down into the mud which US foreign activities operatives embrace as their natural habitat.

    Hybrid warfare is now the primary mode of US national aggression. That is so because that mode of operation is so much more easily disguised against the curious eyes of her own citizens, and those we call allies and friends. Hybrid warfare is color revolutions fomented and financed by the US. It is curious that here in the homeland the “3 per centers” are blithely dismissed as fringe, when our own spooks and spies have proved over and over the legitimacy of that movements’ premise – or even 2, 1, or fractional % support/participation – to achieve a government’s overthrow. Does this constitute a “second contradiction,” or is it possibly a third type?

    I don’t know from Marxist reading groups, but I grasped what you conveyed. So long as the 4th estate (msm) remains captive, or intimidated, or uncurious, the US can continue to create mud pits and agitate from those, and unless other state actors get down and wrestle them there, they will find themselves subject to continuing encroachment: if not of outright rebellion, then at least of intractable dystopian chaos and dysfunction. I agree with the message you’ve been writing for months that multilateralism, parity and equity is the only hope, but it is hard to imagine the present US/EU ptb will ever go there. They may be forced to go there due to exhaustion or bankruptcy, but not willingly.

    US national politics is now, for lack of a better word – “monoclonal.” Peace politicians, advocates for responsible and wide-ranging regulation of financial exploitation and manipulation, and democratic socialists have not been purged from US politics, they have been banned. Those mores and sensibilities are antithetical to the US economic system. Our elected representatives can no more reduce the size of the military budget than they can require Wal-Mart (e.g.) to make all its employees full-time with full medical and retirement benefits.

    If there is a future, historians then might refer to the present US thus: It evolved into the land of opportunity for the few – the ruthless, the conniving, and the amoral; all the rest were just witless, hapless tools.

  5. Tommy Jensen
    June 15, 2021 at 09:36

    For freedom folks!

  6. John Rowland
    June 15, 2021 at 08:51

    This is a difficult issue. Here in Canada, we have still not dealt with the implications of our own past, while our government is out lecturing other countries about Human Rights.

    Case in point. I was casually talking to a customer who looked to be Chinese. I made mention of how the Canadian Government is continually insulting the Chinese, and that due to how much of our needs are met by Chinese Manufacturing since we off shored our ability to make things, how dangerous that was. He could not see how we were insulting the Chinese.

    Meanwhile, I have an employee with distinctive Indigenous Canadian features. I realized that my Chinese customer had no awareness of her heritage, as he had likely never seen someone who looked like her before. He likely thought she was Asian as some Tibetan’s have similar features. Point being, the Canadian Government was so successful in genocide that most people in Canada don’t even recognize a survivor of a Canadian Genocide when they are looking at them.

    Here in Canada, our house is not in order, and we have no business telling other countries how to run their affairs

  7. Realist
    June 15, 2021 at 05:33

    I thought Joe Biden already proclaimed himself to be loaded for bear when he meets Putin. He’s promised to chant a new litany of the man’s purported (but never supported) crimes against humanity. I don’t believe much that Joe ever says, whether making promises to the public or deflecting routine charges of scandal, but his provocations and accusations against Putin and the Russian state have proven to be perhaps the only predictable and dependable trick in his kit. It’s too late for this real old dog to learn any new tricks. If he told jokes instead of tall tales, he’d never remember the punch line.

    The only uncertainty surrounding this event is how big a catastrophe it will be. The “woke” Dems will love it because they’ve staked all their credibility on Joe’s heroically saving the nation from Trump and his alleged Russian conspiracy–debunked in the Mueller report or not. Everyone else will see it for what it is: an ensemble of transparent garments America’s reigning emperor claims to fancy.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    June 14, 2021 at 22:27

    Several things, Patrick.
    One. I love the way you refer to Nod as The Man from Scranton. All I can think of is Cab Calloway and The Man from Harlem – All at once the room was still, Men forgot all about their bill, Who should enter but the man from Harlem.

    Two. I know that you are hopeful for the future with the summit as the kick off point. I am substantially more sanguine. Any improvement in relations was always going to require a substantive improvement in the US’s behavior, not Russia’s. The US has to stop being a jerk with our egregious use of sanctions to punish other countries, specifically Russia. Having Nod say that he will tell Putin the conditions for improved relations is not promising. Just as cooperation isn’t a bunch of people doing what I tell them to, improved relations isn’t Russia doing what the US wants. The other topic that we all know they will broach is that loser Navalny. Hopefully Putin will tell Blinkin and Nod to go buzz off, that’s an internal affair of Russia. Which they won’t like. Mr. Putin might even highlight the treatment of Navalny vis-a-vis Maria Butina. The US does not look good in that comparison. And Butina’s charges were trumped up and politically motivated for sure. The FBI admitted it.

    Three. They could go further afield than Jan 6. Everybody’s probably forgotten it but… it was back in ’53/54 that DDE signed the order making membership in the Communist party illegal. So much for our vaunted political freedom…….

  9. Zhu
    June 14, 2021 at 20:19

    Great article, Mr. Lawrence. I look forward to reading Russia’s analyses of US human rights. To me, it appears the US human rights record stinks like a truck load of dead fish, but somehow US leaders never notice this.

  10. Piotr Berman
    June 14, 2021 at 19:47

    “parity between West and non–West”

    While US government does not recognize this principle verbally, there were hints of progress. The property and other rights of German plutocrats and business leaders will not be abridged by mere whims of the Treasury Department just because of administering legal economic activity with no signs or even allegation of fraud. Perhaps in few years Lithuania will have a similar blessing, and in few decade, Russia?

    So within the West there are chunks without a parity with the most privileged, but with the new Administration, this disparity is pursued with restraint.

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