“This is not just about our self-interest,” said the US President. “It’s about mutual self-interest.”
Whether Putin Biden’s advice will be followed is far from clear, as is the real impact of the much-vaunted summit between the two heads of state and government on Wednesday. Both men used words like “constructive” and “positive” to describe the four-hour meeting. But, as expected, little came out of the talks – at least as far as it was made known to the public – other than agreements to continue talking about topics ranging from nuclear weapons to the war in Ukraine.
Still, this is a win on its own, some analysts said, given the poor state and declining development of US-Russian relations.
“Biden set the bar reasonably low for this meeting, and the outcome – agreeing to talk about the tough but necessary issues of strategic stability, arms control and risk mitigation – more than met that bar,” said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Centers Kennan Institute. “The way the two Presidents described the tone and tone of their meeting suggests that they did exactly what needed to be done, which is to identify where there is potential for progress and where there is not there is such potential and how each side sees things. “
The Biden-Putin meeting took place in Geneva, Switzerland, after Biden attended a series of summits with European allies in the UK and Belgium. Advisors to the US President had warned in advance not to expect any groundbreaking agreements. They stressed that for Biden, above all, it is a chance to tell Putin face to face what he wants from the relationship and what Russia can expect when it crosses him.
The meeting began with handshakes, quick smiles, and poses for the cameras before the doors closed for the private sessions. After that, Putin first held a press conference, followed by a separate one from Biden.
Biden said he gave Putin a list of 16 entities – from the energy sector to water systems – that should be off-limits to cyberattacks. Biden stressed that Putin must take action against cyber criminals on his territory who carry out such attacks, including the use of ransomware, even if the Kremlin has nothing to do with it. He hinted that he hoped the two countries could come up with some sort of cybersecurity deal.
“Responsible countries must take action against criminals who carry out ransomware activities on their territory,” said Biden. “So we agreed to hire experts in our two countries to work on specific agreements on what is forbidden and investigate specific cases that originate in other countries, and that is one of our countries.”
Biden said he spoke about the recent ransomware attack on a major energy pipeline in the United States, the culprits of which are suspected of having ties to Russia, but not necessarily the government there.
“When I was talking about the pipeline that was hit by ransomware in the US, I looked at him and said, ‘How would you feel if ransomware took over the pipelines from your oil fields?'” Biden said of Putin. “He said it would matter.”
But when reporters pushed Putin against the United States over alleged Russian cyber campaigns, he largely deflected the questions, claiming America was the world’s leading source of cyberattacks. It was a typical Putin tactic to use “whataboutism” to divert blame by pointing out the mistakes of others.
Putin has also faced human rights pressures in Russia, where he is accused of cracking down on political opponents. Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny is currently in jail after surviving poisoning allegedly from the Kremlin.
Putin insisted that he was simply holding accountable people who broke Russian laws. He said Navalny, whose name he would not pronounce, “deliberately ignored the requirements of the law” when seeking treatment abroad for poisoning. Putin did not mention that Navalny was in a coma when he was brought to Germany.
“The gentleman in question went abroad for treatment. His registration was not required, ”said Putin. “As soon as he got to the hospital, he shared his videos on the internet but ignored the requirements of the law. And when he knew that, he returned to Russia. And so I assume that he deliberately wanted to break the law. “
Putin also took the opportunity to condemn the United States for everything from ill-treatment of blacks to the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Putin has brought charges against the people who participated in the Capitol uprising on January 6th because the US persecuted people for their political beliefs.
Meanwhile, Biden played on Putin’s approval of a “bilateral strategic stability dialogue”. These future discussions are intended to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” according to a joint statement by Biden and Putin published by the White House. “Strategic stability” typically refers to nuclear arms control issues.
The US President noted that it could take six months or more for both sides to get a sense of whether the discussions about strategic stability are delivering anything. He indicated that the US would continue to speak with Russia on other issues, including the release of imprisoned Americans and the future security of war-torn Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
Biden and Putin also agreed that their countries’ ambassadors, who had both returned home in recent weeks, would resume their offices in each other’s capitals. It was not exactly clear when the ambassadors would return.
Biden spent much of the time at the forefront of his appearance, emphasizing his belief in the importance of protecting human rights, likely in response to Putin’s allegations during his press conference.
When asked about Putin’s January 6 mention of the rioters, Biden rejected the idea that there was equivalence. “My answer is what I communicated, and that’s a ridiculous comparison,” Biden said, arguing that the rioters damaged the Capitol and caused the death of a security officer.
When asked what would happen if Navalny died in prison, Biden was blunt. “I made it clear [Putin] that I think the consequences for Russia would be devastating, ”said Biden.
These devastating consequences, Biden said, would include an erosion of Russia’s reputation on the global stage as other nations recognize that Moscow will not adhere to international norms, whether through poisoning dissidents or otherwise.
“It’s about their ability to positively influence other nations,” Biden said of Russia.
When it came to trade, Biden remarked, “I have no problem doing business with Russia as long as we do it on the basis of international standards. It is in our interest that the Russian people are doing well economically. ”But he was playing on them controversial case of Michael Calvey, an American investor whom Russia put under house arrest, as the kind of situation that damages Russia’s tradability.
“American businessmen are not ready to show up,” said Biden. “You don’t want to hang out in Moscow.”
Putin had a different view, argues that there is tremendous interest in Russia from US business leaders, but that US sanctions against Russia would affect Americans’ ability to do business there.
When asked earlier this year if he thought Putin was a “murderer,” Biden agreed with the description. At his press conference, Putin said he was satisfied with a statement Biden made about what he meant. When asked to share his page during his press conference, Biden declined.
“He is satisfied,” said Biden of Putin. “Why should I bring it up again?”
Towards the end of his press conference, Biden resented the question of how much confidence he had that Putin would listen to him and change his ways.
“I’m not sure he’ll change his behavior. What the hell? said the president to a reporter. (He later apologized to the press pool for being “a wise guy”.)
Even when describing how he tried to convince Putin that it was in his own interest to take a different approach to Washington, Biden insisted that he would never take Putin’s word for it.
“This is not about trust,” said Biden. “This is about self-interest and self-interest verification.”
Overall, Biden was confident in his performance on Wednesday. “I did what I came for,” he said.