2021-06-17 06:02:28 Biden–Putin Summit Ends With Russian Leader Showing Off
Biden–Putin Summit Ends With Russian Leader Showing Off
While no major breakthroughs were announced following the highly anticipated summit between US and Russian presidents in Switzerland on Wednesday, there was one clear winner: Vladimir Putin.
“[President Joe] Biden gave him a gift in the first minute of the meeting,” Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and coauthor of several books on Russia, told BuzzFeed News from London. “[Biden] referred to Russia and the United States as ‘two great powers.’”
It wasn’t Donald Trump’s adoring praise of Putin during their disastrous 2018 summit in Helsinki that had one top White House adviser wishing she had faked a medical emergency to end it abruptly.
But, even if it wasn’t Biden’s intention, Soldatov said, “Putin got exactly what he wanted” by equating the two countries’ strength.
Geneva rolled out the red carpet for the two leaders, with flags of their respective countries lining the streets and cordoning off much of the area around the lakeside villa where they would meet. Meanwhile, scores of reporters vied for positions close to them, and cable news channels narrated their every move as top-level negotiations began.
The US side carefully choreographed the summit to ensure there were no mishaps or moments that showed the two leaders being overly friendly, as there were during the Trump–Putin summit, and to not allow Putin to set the tone and pace of events. For example, the US requested that Putin, whose power move is to arrive late to such events in order to ice his opponents, arrive first to the meeting. They also declined to hold a joint press conference.
During the first few minutes of the summit, Putin appeared awkward and even annoyed at times, turning his gaze to the ground and away from Biden, tapping the arm of his chair during a photo op, and digging his tongue into his cheek. But make no mistake: despite being kicked out of the Group of Seven and labeled a pariah after a series of cyberattacks, election interference, and military incursions into neighboring Ukraine, to name a few of Moscow’s aggressive actions in recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin knew he was center stage, in the geopolitical spotlight.
Putin appeared first in front of reporters for his solo press conference after a little more than three hours — at least an hour shorter than planned — of closed-door talks. The Russian leader appeared pleased with himself and even seemed to enjoy the media attention, shedding the pouty look he had worn earlier in the day.
In response to the discussions, Putin stated that there was no animosity or hostility between himself and Biden, calling their meeting “constructive,” but their opinions and perspectives “divergent.” He said both sides showed a desire to understand each other and bring their positions closer together, but he claimed he hadn’t budge on major issues such as human rights in Russia and the war in Ukraine, which his military invaded in 2014 and now controls two large swaths of territory.
Later, at his own press conference, Biden stated that he had emphasized human rights issues during the meeting. “I’m going to say it again… Our rights are not granted by the government. We have them because we were born,” Biden explained. “Period.”
That is why, according to Biden, the United States will continue to raise issues such as the persecution and prosecution of people such as Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader imprisoned in Russia on charges widely perceived as retaliation for his political activities.
Regarding Navalny, Putin told reporters that his and Biden’s positions were diametrically opposed. He claimed that Navalny was aware he had broken the law when he was medically evacuated to Germany last summer after being poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent. When asked what would happen if Putin let Navalny die in prison, Biden said, “I made it clear to him that the consequences would be devastating for Russia.”
Putin, relishing the opportunity to criticize the US for its own civil rights struggles, also mentioned police brutality and mass shootings in the US: “You can hardly open your mouth before being shot dead,” he said.
On the contentious issue of cyberwarfare, Biden stated that he and Putin agreed to further discussions on keeping certain types of critical infrastructure off-limits to cyberattacks in the aftermath of recent incidents in the United States that resulted in the shutdowns of a major gas pipeline and a meat processing plant. Biden also stated that he has made it clear to Putin how the US will respond if the attacks continue.
“We will respond via cyberspace. “He is aware,” Biden stated.
Putin stated that he and Biden had agreed to find ways to collaborate on climate change, particularly in the Arctic. He also stated that he and Biden found common ground on the issue of arms control, stating that as the world’s top nuclear powers, they recognize their responsibilities. He emphasized Biden’s “timely and necessary” decision to extend the New START Treaty for five years, and he stated that they agreed to begin negotiations on a new pact. This, according to Biden, means that diplomats and military experts from both countries will soon meet for a “strategic stability dialogue” to lay the groundwork for the new treaty.
Putin also stated that Russia and the United States agreed that their respective ambassadors “should return to their posts and resume their functions” in the near future.
Aside from that, there did not appear to be any major breakthroughs from the summit.
That is unsurprising. Prior to the summit, White House officials stated that they did not expect any major policy agreements to be reached, instead describing it as the first step in establishing a working relationship between the two presidents. They last met a decade ago and had a tense exchange, according to Biden. (According to Biden, he told then-Prime Minister Putin, “I don’t think you have a soul.”)
Unlike the humiliating 2018 meeting in Helsinki between Putin and Trump, who flattered the Russian leader and said he trusted him over US intelligence workers when Putin insisted that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 election, this summit was never expected to be friendly.
The two countries have been exchanging barbs for months. In March, Biden referred to Putin as a “killer,” a remark that the Kremlin described as “very bad.” They then summoned their ambassador in Washington to “analyze what needs to be done” about the countries’ relations; the Kremlin later asked the US ambassador to do the same.
In the days leading up to the Geneva summit, Biden appeared to soften his stance in the hopes of establishing more friendly ground on which to meet Putin, describing him as bright, tough, and a “worthy adversary.” However, Biden stated that he would “verify, then trust” his counterpart and would “verify, then trust” him.
Nonetheless, with relations between the US and Russia at their lowest point since the Cold War, the fact that a face-to-face meeting at the highest level took place at all, according to some experts, was a positive development.
“This isn’t just talking for the sake of talking. “Biden… understands the dance of diplomacy,” said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. “It’s an acknowledgement of understanding how the Russian system works. If you want to put brakes on Russia’s escalating behavior, you can’t just do it at lower levels.”
According to a joint US–Russia statement issued at the summit’s conclusion, Biden and Putin “have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.”
So, will the meeting on Wednesday result in an improvement or a new stage in US–Russia relations?
Biden stated that it will take three to six months to determine whether the summit produced results.
Putin, for his part, said it was “difficult to say” and that the ball was in Washington’s court.
“Everything related to the deterioration of our mutual relations was initiated not by us, but by the US,” Putin falsely stated.
He went on to say, paraphrasing Russian author Leo Tolstoy, “There is no happiness in life.” There’s nothing but a mirage on the horizon, so enjoy it.”