US President Joe Biden met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 18th-century manor house in Geneva, and the two world leaders shook hands at the opening of the daylong summit amid tensions over human rights, Ukraine and ransomware.
Biden met the Russian president for the first time in a decade. He last met Putin when the Russian leader was prime minister and Biden was serving as vice president, in March of 2011.
He has since called Putin both a killer and a worthy adversary. The two are likely to discuss some issues that also were central to their 2011 meeting, like trade and arms control. But this meeting comes at a low point in diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Biden says he hopes to find areas of cooperation with Putin, but he’s also expected to confront the Russian president on cybercrime, Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and other issues that have contributed to frosty relations between the two countries.
‘Won’t be easy’
For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.
Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.
Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last years presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.
Biden and Putin will first hold a relatively intimate meeting joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side will have a translator.
The meeting will then expand to include five senior aides on each side.
After the meeting concludes, Putin will hold a solo news conference and then Biden will follow suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.
Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.
Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control by holding strategic stability talks a series of government-to-government discussions meant to sort through the many areas of disagreement and tension on the national security front.
The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.