Covering the Summit: a Retrospective

By Ray McGovern

I have been musing — and have mixed emotions — about whether the June 16 Geneva summit will turn out to be the last U.S.-Russia summit I shall opt to cover — in essentially the same way I covered/supported earlier ones as a intelligence analyst in CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence. Will it perhaps turn out to be my Last (summit) Hurrah?

As a CIA specialist on Russian foreign policy, it was my privilege to help prepare presidents for summits with Moscow’s leaders — from Glassboro (June 1967; Johnson & Kosygin) to Reykyavik (October 1986; Reagan & Gorbachev).

During the early 70s when I led CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, I detailed three of our most talented analysts to support the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT): one with the negotiating delegations in Vienna or Helsinki, one with high-tech military analysts, and one to analyze/report on what was going on for senior officials in Washington.  This helped win me a catbird seat in Moscow in May 1972 where several key arms control agreements were signed at the Nixon-Brezhnev/Kosygin summit.

The May 1972 Summit

These agreements included the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (freezing their numbers at 1972 levels for five years), and the Incidents at Sea Agreement.  As I explained in my most recent interview with Regis Tremblay (link below), CIA’s work on verification was THE sine qua non for progress — in a word, we were responsible for the second half of “Trust but Verify”.

Each U.S.-Russian summit is sui generis. In late May 2021, however, when, amid very high tension involving Ukraine, a June 16 date was abruptly set for a Biden-Putin summit, it struck me that this one was, well, in a sui generis class by itself, if you will. There would be a premium on trying to piece together the whys, wherefores, and results. And this would present a daunting challenge to analyze and report on, knowing all the while that the hired hands at the NY Times had probably already written their “analyses” before the summit even began (see below).

Back in the Day

It struck me that I might try to provide insights drawn from on my own professional experience with U.S.-Russia summits, drawing largely on the non-arcane but high-value discipline of media analysis.  I decided to transport myself to “back in the day” when U.S. taxpayers were paying me to do such work — or supervise it — without fear or favor.

I spent three pretty intensive weeks trying to figure what was going on, what was likely to happen, and what to expect post-summit. It turned out to be a high — not least because I was completely free to prescind from any and all political agendas (as we CIA analysts were normally able to do during those halcyon pre-William-Casey/cum-clone-Robert-Gates years).

Early returns on the June 16 summit are now in. I can only hope that readers/viewers of the old current-intelligence-style reporting (aka, journalism with reality-based analysis) were provided with helpful insight. 

My guess at this point is that the confused and somewhat urgent circumstances that prompted Biden to request a summit are not likely to be replicated in the next few years.  I probably should pass the baton to younger folks, now that I have reached what my attorney father used to call, jokingly, “the age of statutory senility”. But before I go …

… if any of you would be interested in how an independent, current-intelligence, reality-based analyst might approach a challenge like a high-stakes summit, I invite you to peruse the list of links below. They are arranged in reverse chronological order.

And for a touch of comic relief, I shall tack on a tweet I posted this morning:

Putin-bashing on steroids by acclaimed NYT story-teller – a baker well aware which side his bread is buttered on. For readers able to hold nose and stomach it, a prize for her/him who can find the most outright lies in Peter Baker’s 1st post-summit piece.

(The link to Peter Baker’s article is, I think appropriately, at the very bottom.) 
(Regis Tremblay post-summit interview)
(By Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity)
(Regis Tremblay pre-summit interview)
(It turned out — See link at top of this list — China did form the backdrop, but Biden got it 180-degrees wrong.)


Peter Baker:

Summing Up the Biden-Putin Summit

By Ray McGovern

Regis Tremblay interviewed me for 43 minutes two days after the Geneva summit to review the bidding on what was achieved and what might be expected next. The interview gave me a good opportunity to reflect on what I think of any progress achieved (not much), and why (the incredible pressure any U.S. president would face in really taking on the MICIMATT).

Whoa, Jesus!

Woe to Wealthy US Catholic Bishops So Obsessed With Below-the-Belt Issues That They Miss the Main Message

Whoa, Jesus!
by UCC Pastor Matt Laney
June 19, 2021

Jesus said: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” – Luke 6:24-25 (NRSV)

(Satire alert.)

Whoa, Jesus. What do you have against happy, wealthy people? This is America for God’s sake!

Are you a socialist, Jesus? All this hoopla about abandoning material possessions, common ownership, the meek inheriting the earth, doling out free food and free health care. Are you angling for a radical redistribution of wealth? Millions of decent people will lose their jobs and then where will we be?

Be careful, Jesus. That’s mighty inflammatory talk. I’d hate to see any harm come to you. Best to keep your politics out of the pulpit. Why not stick to spiritual matters and leave economics to the experts? If you alienate the rich, who’s going to fund your ministry?

Get a grip, Jesus. Maybe you need to take some time off. Set some realistic goals. Learn to thread the needle. This pie-in-the-sky, commonwealth-of-God business could only happen by divine grace and a total overhaul of the human heart. Good luck with that.

Sincerely reluctant to be yours,
All of us.

Prayer:  Jesus, how we wish this was satire!

Can the MICIMATT Douse ‘Lightening Flashes of Trust’?

By Ray McGovern, June 17, 2021

Ray elaborated on that question and on other summit issues, including the ones briefly discussed below, during a 15-minute interview today with “The Critical Hour”.

Ray on Critical Hour; June 17, 2021

At President Putin’s press conference right after yesterday’s summit meeting with President Biden, Euronews journalist Galina Polonskaya asked Putin if he had reached “a new level of trust with the U.S. president”.

In response, Putin quoted Leo Tolstoy:

“Tolstoy once said, there is no happiness in life, only lightening flashes (зарницы) of it — cherish them. I believe that in this situation some kind of family trust is not possible. However, it seems to me we have seen “lightening flashes” (“зарницы” промелькнули) of it.

In a speech in St. Petersburg two weeks ago, Putin identified the huge fly in the ointment. Acknowledging the political pressures any US president faces in trying to carve out a more sensible relationship with Russia, Putin asserted that “to a certain extent, Russian-American relations have become hostage to internal political processes in the United States itself.” 

Putin added:

“I hope it ends someday. I mean the fundamental interests in the field of at least security, strategic stability and the reduction of weapons dangerous for the whole world are still more important than the current domestic political situation in the United States itself.”

Biden’s prickly defensiveness, including ranting at journalists, who intimate he might be too trusting of Putin and too confident that Putin “will change his behavior”, is part and parcel of what Putin was alluding to.

Here, for example, is how Biden answered a journalist who asked at his press conference, “Do you believe you can trust him [Putin]?”

Look, this is not about trust; this is about self-interest, and verification of self-interest. That’s what it’s about. … I don’t say, ‘Well, I trust you. No problem’. Let’s see what happens.

As I wrote Wednesday in “Trust Lacking at Blah Summit ( See: ) This tends to turn the tried-and-tested “Trust, But Verify” approach on its head, and does not auger well for improvement in U.S.-Russia ties any time soon.

Last but hardly least, Putin is well aware that although Biden is president, he is not only “hostage to internal political processes” but is likely to be thwarted by the formidable Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex, should he try to bang some heads together and force steps toward rapprochement with Russia.

The MICIMATT has extinguished many a “lightening flash”. If — and it is a big “IF” — President Biden does try to take it on, the odds are heavily against him, barring some kind of miracle.