- President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin are expected to speak for four to five hours.
- Biden tried to lower expectations for the meeting. He doesn’t expect a lot of results.
- Putin has met five US presidents since taking power in 1999.
- Biden has described Putin as a “worthy opponent”.
President Joe Biden took on a firm but mostly conciliatory tone on Wednesday when describing talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Geneva, but he also made it clear that the two nations are one world on issues such as cyber espionage and human rights stay to yourself.
“The bottom line is that I told President Putin that we need to have some basic traffic rules that we can all obey,” Biden told reporters after meeting the Russian leader in Switzerland. It took three hours.
The two men called the meeting, the first since Biden’s inauguration, to discuss a range of issues that have plagued US-Russia relations for months, if not years: cyberattacks, Moscow’s increasingly brazen crackdown on democracy and Russia’s threat to the NATO military alliance, which has long been a bedrock of US security relations with European allies.
“It was important to meet in person so there couldn’t be any mistakes or misrepresentations about what I was trying to convey,” said Biden. “I did what I came to do.”
The summit took place at Villa La Grange, an impressive 18th century villa overlooking Lake Geneva. Biden and Putin met 36 years after former President Ronald Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held talks in a separate, well-appointed mansion in Geneva as Washington and Moscow wanted to thaw Cold War-era ties.
Just before Biden’s remarks, in an obvious sign that the US and Russia are looking for concrete ways to ease tensions, Putin told reporters that the two nations had agreed to return their ambassadors to their posts in Washington and Moscow. No high-ranking diplomat has been posted in either country for months.
Putin said there was “no hostility” between the two delegations. He described the meetings as “constructive” on several points.
For example, he said that he and Biden had reached an agreement that the two countries would begin negotiations on amendments to the new START arms control treaty, the last remaining nuclear weapons deal between Moscow and Washington. Russia’s president also said the two countries will open consultations on cybersecurity but declined any responsibility for the recent spate of ransomware attacks on US institutions. The US said Russian intelligence agencies were behind the “SolarWinds” hack last year that penetrated 18,000 public and private organizations, one of the worst cyberattacks in world history.
Putin, who has met five US presidents since taking power in 1999, did not provide any information, but Biden did.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Biden said he gave Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructures in the US that “should be off-limits to attack”. When asked if he made clear the penalties for future cyberattacks, the president said the US had “significant cyber capabilities.”
“If they actually break these basic norms, we will react,” he said.
Max Abrahms, professor of political science and public order at Northeastern University, said Putin’s remarks about the “participation of both countries in discussions” about cybersecurity sent a positive signal.
“Cyber is here to stay. It is increasingly being used as a tool of warfare. If someone retrospectively creates a timeline of US-Russian relations in the cybersphere, that summit could become a data point on that timeline,” he said.
“Especially when NATO countries begin to invoke Article 5 (where an attack on a single NATO member is considered an attack on all) – that is really something to talk to Putin about.”
Alexei Navalny: The allies are trying to increase the turmoil for Putin in order to oust him
When asked about the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had long been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin, Putin argued that Navalny knew that he was a wanted criminal in Russia, “but he came back and consciously wanted to be arrested.”
Navalny, one of Putin’s harshest critics, was arrested in January when he arrived from Germany, where he was being treated for being poisoned by a Russian military nerve. The Russian authorities have denied that they were behind the attack. Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in February after a court ruled that he had violated the terms of a suspended prison sentence despite being in a coma.
Putin tried to draw an equivalence – a wrong one, Biden said – between his country’s dealings with democracy activists in Russia and the rioters in the US Capitol on January 6th.
“People went to Congress with political demands. Now they are being charged. They are called local terrorists,” he said.
“Anything that happens in one way or another in our respective countries is the responsibility of the leaders themselves. Just look at the streets of America and there are murders every day,” Putin added.
The two foreign heads of state and government were brought together in the first meeting with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov before they split up into a larger group with officials from both countries.
Biden opened the summit by referring to the US and Russia as “two great powers,” which is an effective advancement of Moscow’s status on the world stage.
The US has previously tried to avoid an upgrading of Moscow’s global role. Former President Barack Obama only recognized Russia as a “regional power” after it invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.
“I think Putin got almost everything he wanted from this summit,” said Arkady Dubnov, a Russian political scientist after hearing Putin’s press conference, noting that Putin’s main goal is to see Russia as the superpower on the world stage, that it once was.
The U.S. President spent the days leading up to the summit meeting with dozens of foreign leaders at the Group of Seven and NATO meetings in Britain and Brussels to re-establish transatlantic diplomatic ties that had been shattered by his predecessor’s nationalist policies.
Former President Donald Trump sparked controversy when he defended Russia against allegations of electoral interference in 2016 at a meeting with Putin in Helsinki in July 2019.
Christopher Painter, who served as the first senior director of cyber policy under the Obama administration in the White House, said there was a real chance that Putin would return to his old way of tacit and explicit support for cyberattacks on the US after the summit
“There wasn’t a lot of recognition from Russia for it, or even criminal groups in Russia, doing these things. He kind of refused, and that’s not really a basis for cooperation. Though I didn’t expect him to say, You did me.'”
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