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GENEVA – With stern facial expressions and polite words in front of the cameras, President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin plunged into hours of personal talks on Wednesday in a lush Swiss mansion on the lake, a much-anticipated summit at a time when both heads of state and government agree on that Relations between their countries are at an all-time low.
Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face to face”. For his part, Putin said he hoped the talks would be “productive”.
The meeting in a book-lined room got off to a awkward start – both men seemed to avoid looking at each other in front of a crowd of reporters during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity.
Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president “clearly wasn’t responding to a single question, but rather nodded appreciation to the press in general “.
Putin ignored loud questions from reporters, even if he feared the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The two leaders shook hands – Biden reached out his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader – moments before, as they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to the summit in Switzerland.
Biden and Putin are expected to hold extensive talks for four to five hours.
For months they have been using sharp rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called on Putin for malicious cyber attacks by Russian hackers on US interests, disregard for democracy with the imprisonment of Russia’s opposition leader and meddling in American elections.
For his part, Putin responded with whatabout isms and obfuscation – he pointed to the January 6 uprising in the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has nothing to do with lecturing on democratic norms and insisted that the Russian government not interfering in the election or cyberattacks, although US intelligence agencies show otherwise
In the run-up to the meeting on Wednesday, both sides set out to lower expectations.
Even so, Biden said it would be an important step if the United States and Russia are ultimately able to find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly humble goal of the president in dealing with the person he calls one of the America’s sharpest opponent.
“We should decide where it is in our common interest, in the interest of the world, to work together and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we disagree make it clear what the red lines are.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no breakthroughs were expected and that “the situation in Russian-American relations is too difficult”. He added that “the fact that the two presidents have agreed to meet and finally speak openly about the issues is already an achievement.”
The preparations for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated.
Biden first announced the meeting on a phone call in April informing Putin that he would expel several Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on dozens of people and companies in order to hold the Kremlin accountable for meddling in last year’s presidential election pulling and hacking federal agencies.
Putin and his entourage were the first to reach the summit: Villa La Grange, a magnificent mansion on the lake in Geneva’s largest park. Next came Biden and his team. Putin flew to Geneva on Wednesday shortly before the scheduled start of the meeting; Biden – who was already meeting with allies in Europe – arrived the day before.
Biden and Putin initially held a relatively intimate meeting that was attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Each page has a translator. The meeting is then expanded to include five senior officers on each side.
After the meeting closes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo press conference, followed by Biden. The White House has decided against a joint press conference and decided that it does not want to lift Putin up at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to refrain from countless provocations.
Biden sees himself with a few colleagues in foreign policy. He traveled the world as a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and received difficult foreign policy assignments from President Barack Obama when Biden was Vice President. His portfolio spanned messy places like Iraq and Ukraine, and weighed the courage of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.
He has repeatedly said that he believes that effective foreign policy implementation comes through building strong personal relationships, and has managed to connect with Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has referred to as an “autocrat” conventional politicians like the Canadian Justin. to find Trudeau.
But for a long time Biden was cautious about Putin, of whom he said he had “no soul”. At the same time, he admits that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the past five US presidents, is not without talent.
“He’s smart. He’s tough,” said Biden. “And I’ve found that he is – as they say … a worthy opponent.”
The White House continued to hope to find consensus on small areas.
No promises have been made, but according to the chief administrative officer, there is hope that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective posts after the meeting. Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden identified Putin as a murderer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago after Russia proposed returning to Washington for consultations.
Biden government officials believe that arms control will find common ground. International arms control groups are urging Russian and American leaders to push for new arms control agreements.
The Biden team will be raising their cybersecurity concerns. In the past few months, hackers based in Russia have launched alarming attacks on a large U.S. oil pipeline and a Brazilian-based meat supplier in the United States
The Russian side has stated that the arrest of Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader, is a domestic issue and an area in which Putin will not get involved. However, White House officials said Biden intends to bring the matter up.
The meeting will certainly invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018, where the two leaders held a joint press conference and Trump sided with Russia when asked if Moscow was in the presidential election Interfered in 2016.
Biden prepared for his one-on-one interview by reviewing materials and consulting with government officials and outside advisors. Aides said the level of preparation is not uncommon. In a brief exchange with reporters when he arrived in Geneva on Tuesday evening, Biden tried to create the impression that he was not making his big meeting work up a sweat.
“I’m always ready,” said Biden.
Associated Press video journalist Daniel Kozin contributed to the coverage
This story has been corrected to show that Geneva is not the capital of Switzerland.
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