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No joint press conference and no breaking of bread: Biden and Putin meet at Geneva summit

Up to five hours of talks are planned, starting at around midday Irish time, with no break for meals.

Updated Jun 16th 2021, 2:00 PM

US president Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have begun face-to-face talks at a highly anticipated summit in Geneva.

The meeting comes at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

The two leaders sat in a book-lined room at the start of their meeting, with both appearing to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief photo opportunity before a scrum of reporters.

Putin said he hoped the talks, expected to last four or five hours, would be “productive”, while Biden told him “it is always better to meet face-to-face”.

The US President appeared to suggest that he could take the Russian leader at his word, nodding his head when asked by a reporter if the Russian leader could be trusted.

The two leaders had shaken hands moments earlier as they posed with Swiss president Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland and the lush lakeside mansion for the summit. For months, they have traded sharp rhetoric.

Putin and Biden meet

Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US 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 obfuscations – pointing to the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol to argue that America has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government has not been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.

Now the pair are meeting for the first time face-to-face as leaders. In advance, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to co-operate, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week.

“And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told The Associated Press today that no breakthroughs were expected and that “the situation is too difficult in Russian/American relations.”

“However, the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement,” Peskov said several hours before the summit’s start.

Arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides.

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 year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

Putin and his entourage arrived first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next came Mr Biden and his team.

putin arrives

Putin landed in Geneva today shortly before the scheduled start of the meeting; Biden — who was in Europe for a week of meeting with allies — arrived the day before.

The three spent a moment together in front of the cameras, but only Parmelin made remarks.

Biden and Putin were expected to first hold a relatively intimate meeting, joined by US 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 is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit.

Earlier it was reported that Biden is set to draw “red lines” for President Vladimir Putin at a tense Geneva summit today, where ghosts of the Cold War will hover over modern-day US concerns that Russia has become a rogue, authoritarian state.

The setting – a sumptuous villa overlooking Lake Geneva – may be picturesque, but a gruelling diplomatic face-off awaits.

villa

Up to five hours of talks are planned, starting at around midday Irish time, with no break for meals.

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The choice of Geneva, following long US-Russian negotiations, recalls the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985.

This time, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly hostile, rule-breaking regime.

From cyber attacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington’s list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long.

Putin, however, comes to the summit arguing that Moscow is simply challenging US hegemony. It’s part of a bid to promote a so-called ‘multi-polar’ world that has seen Russia and arguably even more powerful US adversary China draw close.

Putin is due to fly into Geneva from Moscow right before meeting the US president.

Biden, ending an intensive first foreign trip as president, arrived yesterday after summits with NATO and the European Union in Brussels, and a G7 summit in Britain.

Asked if he was ready for Putin, Biden smiled and said: “I’m always ready.”

Optimism? ‘Not much’ 

In an interview with NBC, Putin scoffed at US accusations of dirty tricks abroad and authoritarian crackdowns at home.

As well as denying any connection to what the United States says are Russia-based hacking and ransomware gangs, Putin rejected having any hand in the deaths of many of his opponents during two decades in power.

Addressing one of the main irritants in relations with Washington and with the European Union, Putin insisted he also could not be blamed for the near-fatal poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, one of the few remaining major opposition figures in Russia.

With reporting by Niall O’Connor, Associated Press and © AFP 2021

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