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Biden, Putin meet in Geneva, gulfs on issues remain after ‘constructive’ summit

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, June 18
President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from their 4-hour Geneva summit on Wednesday with the Russian leader deeming it “constructive” and the U.S. president calling it “positive.” The first meeting between the presidents of the United States and Russia attracted worldwide attention. Such a great deal of interest in the summit was fueled by the strained relations between the two most powerful nuclear states in the world.

After taking office, Joe Biden imposed two series of economic sanctions on Russia following the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and the bombing of ammunition depots in the Czech town of Vrbetice; and just a few months ago, he called Putin a murderer and sides then summoned ambassadors. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Biden's statement ‘unprecedented’ in Russian-American relations and warned Washington that Russia would respond "absolutely" to the US president's remarks. In response, the Kremlin listed the US as a hostile state and banned its consulate from hiring citizens of the Russian Federation and third-country nationals.

After the summit, Putin said that the return of the ambassadors was also discussed at the meeting, although this information has not been confirmed by the White House so far. “We also agreed that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department will begin consultations on the whole complex of diplomatic relations," Putin said. As for his reference to being a ‘murderer’, as Biden recently agreed, Putin has responded by criticizing the US for killing civilians in Iraq and for holding a secret prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Press conferences that were held separately made clear that the sides remain at odds over human rights, cyberattacks and Ukraine.

"I think there was no hostility, quite the contrary," said Putin.

He noted they reached an agreement to start negotiations on cybersecurity, but took no responsibility for the cyberattacks and election meddling that U.S. intelligence has blamed on Russia and Russia-based cyber criminals. When asked by an about Russia's human rights abuses and imprisonment of political opponents, the Russian president brought up the January 6 insurrection, seemingly expressing sympathy for the rioters who were arrested.

"People came to the U.S. Congress with political demands," Putin said. "They are being called domestic terrorists."

Russian president was also asked about Ukraine, in particular, the prospect of its membership in NATO. He said there was nothing tangible here that could have become a topic of discussion. He once again accused Kiev of escalating the conflict.

“As far as I understand President Biden, he agrees that the settlement of the situation in south-eastern Ukraine should be based on the Minsk agreement,” Putin said.

Regarding the commitment to Ukraine, the Russian President said that Russia has only one obligation: to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk Agreement.

According to Putin, sides have agreed to start consultations on cyber-attacks and cyber security.

As for Alexei Navalny, whom Putin called a ‘double convict’: “He was deliberately going to be arrested,” he said, again accusing the Russian opposition of violating the law. Speaking of Navalny, Putin actually accused the US of supporting Russia's political opposition, while the Russian leader called the Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund an ‘extremist’ organization.

"This organization has publicly called for mass unrest, abused minors in street rallies, which is prohibited by law in Russia, instructed them on how to supply Molotov cocktails and disclosed the personal data of police officers," Putin said.

In his introductory speech, Biden noted that a direct meeting with the Russian president was important to him to avoid misinterpretations of what he wanted to convey to the interlocutor. He said his goal with the meeting was to establish a relationship that is ‘stable and predictable’. By Biden's telling, he raised uncomfortable topics including ransomware attacks emanating from Russia, the wrongful imprisonment of 2 Americans and Putin's mistreatment of political opponents.

According to the US President, he said at a meeting with Putin that the US will continue to unwaveringly support Ukraine and sides agreed to continue diplomatic efforts under the Minsk agreement.

Biden also noted that he will continue to support Alexei Navalny and all those whose rights are being violated. Here Biden referred to American citizens serving sentences in Russian prisons.

“I told him, 'How can I be president of the US and not speak out against human rights abuses?’ I told him that if Navalny died, it would be devastating for Russia,” Biden told reporters, adding that Putin always thinks the US is trying to ‘defeat ‘him.

In addition to human rights, Biden spoke with Putin about cyberattacks against American companies and the situation in Belarus, but failed to reach an agreement here.

Biden said he also tried to establish some basic rules of the road, sharing with Putin a list of 16 elements of critical infrastructure he suggested be considered off limits for cyber attacks. Biden said he told the Russians the U.S. has "significant cyber capabilities," without elaborating on what they are, and if the Russians or criminals inside Russia continue to violate norms "we will respond." Biden suggested Russian officials in the meeting had a moment of acknowledgement when he described what a cyber attack could do to Russia's pipelines for instance.

The sides agreed to formal talks on updating arms-control agreements.

Another issue raised at the Geneva summit, which was not mentioned by Vladimir Putin at his press conference, concerns the security of Afghanistan. “It is also in Russia's interest that there were no terrorists in Afghanistan,” Biden said, adding that he had told Putin that the security problem in Afghanistan was directly linked to the Russian president.

Asked whether the meeting with Putin was needed at all if agreement could not be reached and the positions brought closer, the US president said he was doing what he had to do: "The first is to define the areas in which we can interact, the second is a personal meeting, the third is to clearly state our position. There is a lot of work ahead and I am not saying that we have already achieved something.”

A statement on strategic stability was issued after the summit of the US and Russian presidents. "We reaffirm our commitment to the principle that no one can win a nuclear war and that it should never be repeated. To achieve this, the United States and Russia will soon launch a comprehensive bilateral dialogue on strategic stability.”

Recall, that issue of Georgia was not the topic of discussion at the summit.