While no major breakthroughs were announced in Switzerland after the eagerly awaited summit between the presidents of the United States and Russia on Wednesday, one clear winner emerged: Vladimir Putin.
“In the first minute of the meeting [President Joe] Biden gave him a gift, ”Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and co-author of several books on Russia, told BuzzFeed News from London. “[Biden] said Russia and the United States are ‘two great powers’. “
It was certainly not the scruffy praise Donald Trump gave Putin during her disastrous 2018 summit in Helsinki, when a senior White House adviser wished she had faked a medical emergency to end it abruptly.
But by equating the strengths of the two nations, Soldatov said, even if that wasn’t what Biden wanted, “Putin got exactly what he wanted.”
Geneva rolled out the red carpet for the two leaders, lined the streets with the flags of their respective countries and blocked off much of the area around the lake villa where they would meet. Meanwhile, numerous reporters were calling for locations near them, and cable news networks recounted their every move as they began their high-level conversations.
The summit was carefully choreographed by the US side to ensure that no mishaps or moments occur that show the two leaders as overly friendly, as was the case during the Trump-Putin summit, and not to allow Putin to set the tone and pace of events. For example, the US urged Putin, whose power is to be late for such events in order to frustrate his opponents, to come to the meeting first. They also did without a joint press conference.
In the first few minutes of the summit, Putin appeared awkward and sometimes even annoyed, looked down and averted from Biden, patted the armrest of his chair during a photo session and dug his tongue into his cheek. But make no mistake: the Russian president knew he was in the center of the geopolitical spotlight despite being banned from the Group of Seven Nations and becoming an outcast after a string of cyber-attacks, electoral interference, and military invasions into neighboring Ukraine. to name but a few of Moscow’s aggressive actions in recent years.
After just over three hours – at least an hour shorter than planned – behind closed doors, Putin was the first to appear in front of reporters for his solo press conference. Shedding the pout he’d worn earlier in the day, the Russian leader seemed content with himself and even seemed to enjoy media attention.
Regarding the discussions, Putin said there was no animosity or animosity between him and Biden and called their meeting “constructive” but called their opinions and perspectives “divergent”. He said both sides had shown a desire to understand each other and bring their positions closer, but he suggested that he be and on big issues like human rights in Russia and the war in Ukraine, which his military invaded in 2014 now controlled, not an inch gave way, two large swathes of land.
Biden later said at his own press conference that he had emphasized human rights issues at the meeting. “I will keep repeating it… We do not derive our rights from the government. We own them because we were born, ”said Biden. “Period.”
Because of this, Biden continued, the US will continue to raise issues such as the persecution and prosecution of people like Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is jailed in Russia on charges widely viewed as retaliation for his political activities.
On Navalny, Putin told reporters that he and Biden had completely different positions. He said Navalny knew he was breaking the law when he was medically evacuated to Germany last summer after being poisoned with the neurotoxin Novichok. When asked by a reporter what would happen if Putin allowed Navalny to die in prison, Biden said, “I made it clear to him that the consequences for Russia would be devastating.”
Pleased at the opportunity to criticize the US for its own civil rights struggles, Putin also brought up the police brutality in the US and its frequent mass shootings: “You can hardly open your mouth before you are shot,” he said.
On the hot topic of cyberwar, Biden said he and Putin had agreed to further talks to keep certain types of critical infrastructure closed to cyberattacks following the recent incidents in the United States that shut down a major gas pipeline and meat processing facility. Biden also said he was crystal clear with Putin about how the US will react if the attacks continue.
“We will respond in a cyber way. He knows, ”said Biden.
Putin said he and Biden had agreed to find ways to work together on climate change, particularly in the Arctic. And he said he and Biden had found common ground on arms control and said that, as the world’s leading nuclear powers, they understand their responsibilities. He noted that Biden made the “timely and necessary” decision to extend the New START contract for five years and said they agreed to start negotiations on a new pact. Biden said this means that diplomats and military experts from the two countries will soon meet for a “strategic stability dialogue” to lay the foundations for the new treaty.
Putin also said that Russia and the US have agreed that each other’s ambassadors should “return to their posts and take up their functions” in the near future.
But other than that, there didn’t seem to be any major breakthroughs from the summit.
That’s not surprising. White House officials had stated ahead of the summit that they did not expect the meeting to lead to any major political deal, but rather referred to it as the first step in building a working relationship between the two presidents. They had last met a decade ago and had what Biden called a strained exchange. (Biden said he said to Prime Minister Putin at the time, “I don’t think you have a soul.”)
In contrast to the embarrassing meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki in 2018, which flattered the Russian leader and said he trusts him more than US intelligence officials when Putin claimed the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 elections, was from that summit never expect a friendly affair.
The two countries have been trading barbs for months. In March, Biden called Putin a “killer” – a remark the Kremlin described as “very bad”. They then called their ambassador back to DC to “analyze what needs to be done” in relation to country relations; later the Kremlin asked the US ambassador to return home as well.
In the days leading up to the Geneva summit, Biden seemed to soften his stance in hopes of creating friendlier ground on which to face Putin, calling him smart, tough and “a worthy opponent”. But Biden also said that he would not take his counterpart at their word and “check him out and then trust”.
However, with US-Russia relations at their lowest point since the Cold War, some experts believe it was a positive development that there was even a face-to-face meeting at the highest level.
“It’s definitely not talking for talking’s sake. Biden … understands the dance of diplomacy, “Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told BuzzFeed News. “It is an appreciation to know how the Russian system works. If you try to put guard rails in place for Russia’s escalating behavior, you can’t just do it at lower levels. “
A common USA-Russia statement published at the end of the summit, said that Biden and Putin “have shown that, even in times of tension, they are able to make progress on our common goals, to ensure predictability in the strategic area, the risk of armed conflict and the increasing threat reduce”. of nuclear war. “
So will Wednesday’s meeting lead to an improvement or a new phase in US-Russia relations?
Biden said it would take three to six months to know if the summit had any results.
For his part, Putin said it was “hard to tell” 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 falsely.
Then he added and paraphrased the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy: “There is no happiness in life. Only a mirage can be seen on the horizon, so guess that. “