- President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin are expected to talk for four to five hours.
- Biden has tried to lower expectations for the meeting . He isn’t expecting many deliverables.
- Putin has met five U.S. presidents since coming to power in 1999.
- Biden has described Putin as “a worthy adversary.”
President Joe Biden described the tone of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva as “good, positive” as he looked ease tensions between Moscow and Washington.
“It was important to meet in person so there could be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate,” Biden said. “I did what I came to do.”
Just before Biden’s remarks, Putin told reporters the two nations agreed to return their ambassadors to their posts in Washington and Moscow. He said there was “no hostility” between the two delegations in meetings that lasted less than three hours — ending much earlier than anticipated. He described the meetings as “constructive” on some issues.
For months, no senior diplomat has been posted in either country, and it was unclear when their respective ambassadors would return. Putin also said he and Biden reached an agreement that the two countries would start negotiations on changes the New Start arms control treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms deal between Moscow and Washington.
The Russian president said the U.S. and Russia will begin consultations on cybersecurity following a recent spate of ransomware attacks in the U.S. He did not elaborate.
Biden said he gave Putin a list of certain critical infrastructures in the U.S. that “should be off limits to attack.” Asked if he laid out clearly what the penalty would be for future cyber attacks, the president said he pointed out the U.S. has “significant cyber capability.”
“If in fact they violate these basic norms, we will respond,” he said.
Asked about jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin argued Navalny knew he was a wanted criminal in Russia “but nevertheless he came back, and he deliberately wanted to be arrested.”
Navalny, one of Putin’s staunchest critics, was detained in January upon his arrival from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning from a nerve agent. Russian authorities have denied they were behind the attack. Navalny was sentenced to two and half years in February after a court ruled he violated terms of a suspended jail term, even though he was in a coma.
Asked about his opponents being jailed, dead or poisoned, Putin sought to draw comparisons between democracy activists in Russia and rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“People went to the U.S. Congress with political demands. Now they are facing criminal charges. They are called homegrown terrorists,” he said. “Everything that happens in our respective countries, one way or another, it is the responsibility of the leaders themselves. You just have to look at the streets of America and every single day there are killings.”
The two foreign leaders were joined Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for the first session before they broke into a larger group including officials from both countries. The summit included a 45-minute break.
Biden opened the summit by describing the U.S. and Russia as “two great powers,” marking a promotion of Moscow’s status on the world stage as the pair began lengthy talks on a range of subjects including cyberattacks and human rights concerns.
The U.S. president noted it was “always better to meet face-to-face” and Putin added he hoped the meeting would be “productive.”
The U.S. has previously sought to avoid elevating Moscow’s global role. Former President Barack Obama only acknowledged Russia as a “regional power” after it invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.
Earlier, Swiss President Guy Parmelin made brief remarks welcoming the two leaders, before Biden and Putin shook hands, looked at each other, smiled and then entered the 18th-century villa where their talks took place. Parmelin said he wished the leaders a “fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the world.”
There was pushing and shoving by the traveling U.S. and Russian press pool as they jostled to enter the villa and appeared to be restricted by Russian security.
Biden says Putin is ‘a worthy adversary’
Biden has sought to tamp down expectations about the high stakes meeting but earlier this week told reporters he planned to take a tough line on issues including a recent string of cyberattacks and Russian aggression in Ukraine but also find areas of mutual interest where they could cooperate.
The president is “not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” the administration official said.
“I have met with him. He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is a, as they say when we used to play ball, a worthy adversary,” Biden told reporters of Putin at a news conference Monday night.
Putin has met five U.S. presidents since coming to power in 1999.
The summit with Biden was held at Villa La Grange, a handsome 18th-century villa that overlooks Lake Geneva. Biden and Putin are meeting 36 years after former President Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev held talks at a separate well-appointed villa in Geneva as Washington and Moscow sought a thaw in relations.
Summit follows G-7, NATO meetings
The U.S. president spent the days in the lead-up to the summit meeting with dozens of foreign leaders at the Group of Seven and NATO meetings in Britain and Brussels, Belgium, as he sought to restore transatlantic diplomatic ties unwound by his predecessor’s nationalist policies.
He told reporters his foreign counterparts appreciated he chose to meet with Putin so quickly despite criticism of his timing of the summit.
“Every world leader here as a member of NATO that spoke today, and most of them mentioned it, thanked me for meeting with Putin now,” he said. “And they thought it was thoroughly appropriate that I do, and I had discussions with them in the open about what they thought was important from their perspective.”
Biden’s meeting is expected to mark a stark contrast to Putin’s last meeting with an American president. Former President Donald Trump stirred controversy when he defended Russia against allegations of 2016 election interference at their meeting in Helsinki in July 2019. Unlike that meeting, Putin and Biden plan to hold separate press conferences following talks.
Ahead of the talks, Putin’s official spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautioned that the diplomatic meeting was not likely to produce any breakthroughs.
“We have many long-neglected questions that need to be trawled through. That’s why President Putin is arriving with an attitude to frankly and constructively set questions and try to find solutions,” Peskov said. “However, the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement.”
Washington and Moscow recalled their respective ambassadors amid the heightened tensions. The presence of U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov in Geneva could signal “they are going back to work in their embassies,” said Michael McFaul, a Russia expert and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in a Twitter thread Wednesday.