“From the first minute of the meeting, [President Joe] Biden gave him a gift, ”Andrei Soldatov, Russian journalist and co-author of several books on Russia, told BuzzFeed News from London. ” [Biden] declared that Russia and the United States are “two great powers”.
It was certainly not the smug praise Donald Trump gave Putin at their disastrous 2018 summit in Helsinki which had a senior White House adviser who wished he had faked a medical emergency in order to end it abruptly.
But in equalizing the strength of the two nations, even though that’s not what Biden wanted to do, Soldatov said: “Putin got exactly what he wanted. “
Geneva rolled out the red carpet for the two leaders, lining the streets with the flags of their respective countries and sealing much of the area around the lakeside villa where they would meet. Meanwhile, dozens of journalists clamored for positions close to them, and cable news channels recounted their every move as they began their high-level talks.
Putin had initially looked awkward and even annoyed at times during the first few minutes of the summit, looking down at the ground and away from Biden, patting the arm of his chair during a photoshoot and digging his tongue into his cheek . But make no mistake: the Russian president knew he was in the spotlight, in the geopolitical spotlight, despite being excluded from the Group of Seven Nations and becoming an outcast after a series of cyber attacks, Election interference and military invasions from neighboring Ukraine, to name just a few of Moscow’s aggressive actions in recent years.
After just over three hours – at least an hour less than expected – of closed-door talks, Putin appeared first in front of reporters for his solo press conference. Letting go of the sulky look he had worn earlier today, the Russian leader seemed self-satisfied and even seemed to be enjoying the media attention.
Speaking of the talks, Putin said there was no animosity or hostility between him and Biden, calling their meeting “constructive” but their “divergent” views and perspectives. He said the two sides had shown a desire to understand each other and reconcile their positions, but suggested he had not budged an inch on big issues like human rights in Russia and the war in Ukraine, which its army invaded in 2014 and which it now controls. two large expanses of territory.
Biden, speaking later at his own press conference, said he focused on human rights issues during the meeting. “I’ll keep saying it… We don’t take our rights from the government. We own them because we were born, ”Biden said. “Period. “
That is why, Biden continued, the United States will continue to raise issues such as the persecution and prosecution of people like Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader jailed in Russia on charges widely seen as retaliation for his political activities.
On Navalny, Putin told reporters that he and Biden had very different positions. He said Navalny knew he broke the law when he was medically evacuated to Germany after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok last summer. Asked by a reporter about what would happen if Putin allowed Navalny to die in prison, Biden said: “I have made it clear to him that the consequences will be devastating for Russia. “
Welcoming the opportunity to criticize the United States for its own civil rights struggles, Putin also referred to police brutality in the United States and its frequent mass shootings: “You can hardly open your mouth before you go. be shot, ”he said.
On the burning issue of cyber warfare, Biden said he and Putin had agreed to continue discussions on keeping certain types of critical infrastructure out of the reach of cyber attacks following recent incidents in the United States that saw the closure of a major gas pipeline and a meat processing plant. . Biden also said he was clear with Putin on how the United States would respond if the attacks continued.
“We will respond in a cybernetic manner. He knows, ”Biden said.
Putin said he and Biden had agreed to find ways to cooperate on the issue of climate change, especially in the Arctic. And he said he and Biden found common ground on the issue of arms control, saying that as the world’s major nuclear powers, they understand their responsibility. He noted that Biden had made the “timely and necessary” decision to extend the new START treaty for five years and said they had agreed to start negotiations on a new pact. Biden said this means diplomats and military experts from both countries will meet soon for a “strategic stability dialogue” to lay the groundwork for the new treaty.
Putin also said that Russia and the United States have agreed that each other’s ambassadors “should return to their posts and take up their duties” in the near future.
But other than that, there doesn’t appear to have been a major breakthrough from the top.
It’s not surprising. White House officials had said ahead of the summit that they did not expect the meeting to lead to major political agreements, instead describing it as the first step in establishing a working relationship between the two presidents. They last met ten years ago and had what Biden described as a tense exchange. (Biden said he told then Prime Minister Putin, “I don’t think you have a soul.”)
For months, the two countries traded beards. In March, Biden called Putin a “killer” – a remark the Kremlin called “very bad.” They then recalled their ambassador to Washington to “analyze what needs to be done” on the relations of the countries; the Kremlin then asked the US ambassador to return home as well.
In the days leading up to the Geneva summit, Biden appeared to soften his stance in hopes of creating more friendly ground on which he could meet Putin, calling him a brilliant, tough and “worthy adversary.” But Biden also said he wouldn’t take his counterpart at his word and would “check it out, then trust him.”
Still, with relations between the United States and Russia at their lowest since the Cold War, the fact that a face-to-face meeting at the highest level took place was a positive development, some experts say.
“It is certainly not talking for the sake of talking. Biden… understands the dance of diplomacy, ”Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s recognition of how the Russian system works. If what you’re trying to do is put safeguards against growing Russian behavior, you can’t just do it at lower levels. “
A United States-Russia union declaration published at the end of the summit said that Biden and Putin “have demonstrated that, even in times of tension, they are able to move forward on our common goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflict and the threat of nuclear war. “
Will Wednesday’s meeting therefore lead to an improvement or a new stage in US-Russian relations?
Biden said it would take three to six months to find out whether the summit produced results.
For his part, Putin said it was “hard to say” and suggested the ball was in Washington’s court.
“Everything that has to do with the deterioration of our mutual relations was not initiated by us but by the United States,” Putin said wrongly.
He then added, paraphrasing Russian writer Leo Tolstoy: “There is no happiness in life. There is only one mirage on the horizon, so cherish it.