Biden-Putin summit: U.S. and Russian leaders meet for tense Geneva talks

June 17, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16 for four hours during their first, highly-anticipated summit, the BBC reports.

The talks came at a time when both sides describe relations as being “at rock bottom.” President Biden had said that he expected no major breakthroughs —but hoped to find small areas of agreement.

Among the topics that were slated to be covered, according to the BBC, were the following:

  • Diplomacy: The two sides are expected to discuss the withdrawal of their ambassadors, who returned home amid heightened tensions. America has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and shut down two compounds in recent years; while U.S. missions in Russia are set to be barred from employing locals, meaning dramatic cuts in services including visas.
  • Arms control: Officials also believe there could be common ground on arms control. In February, the countries extended their New Start nuclear arms control treaty. Russia wants this to be further extended.
  • Cyberattacks: Biden is expected to raise concerns over recent cyberattacks that the United States has linked to Russia-based hackers. Putin has denied Russian involvement.
  • Elections: The issue of alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections is also likely to come up. Again, Putin denies any involvement.
  • Prisoners:The families of two former U.S.Marines who are being held in Russian prisons have pressed for their release ahead of the summit. Asked if he would be willing to negotiate on a prisoner swap, Putin told NBC News, “Of course”
  • Navalny:The Russian side has called the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny an internal political matter. But a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press news agency that there is “no issue that is off the table for the president.”
  • Ukraine: Relations with America when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. There have been warnings this year of a build-up of Russian troops in Crimea and near Ukraine’s border,sparking concerns of preparations for war. Putin also has baulked recently at the idea of Ukrainian membership of NATO.
  • Syria:Biden is expected to appeal to Russia not to close the only remaining UN aid corridor from Turkey into opposition-held northwest Syria. A vote on r-authorizing the corridor will be held by the UN Security Council, in which Russia—which supports Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad—has veto power

According to The New York Times, emerging from his first meeting with Biden since his election as U.S. president, Putin began by saying the talks had gone well—but it soon became clear that tensions between the countries may be unlikely to ease significantly any time soon.

Putin denied that Russia has played a role in a spate of increasingly bold cyberattacks against U.S. institutions, and said the United States was the biggest offender.

The Times reported that the Russian leader’s remarks suggested that he was not interested in discussing what Biden had said was a key objective of the talks: to establish some “guardrails” about what kinds of attacks on critical infrastructure are off limits in peacetime.

Putin did suggest that there had been some kind of agreement to establish expert groups to examine these issues, but U.S. officials fear it is little more than a ploy to tie the matter up in committee.

“There has been no hostility,” Putin declared. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.”

Addressing reporters at the Geneva villa where the meeting took place, the Russian president said: “Both sides expressed their intention to understand each other and seek common ground. The talks were quite constructive.”

Research contact: @BBCNews

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