US President Joe Biden’s first meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since assuming office comes amid soaring tensions between Washington and Moscow, with both sides playing down the prospect of any major breakthroughs at the summit.
US President Joe Biden says he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have discussed in detail the “next steps our countries should take on arms control measures” to reduce the risk of war.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Biden said this means that diplomats and military experts from both countries will meet for what he called a “strategic stability dialogue” to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.
He did not say when the talks would begin. The idea is to work out a way to set the stage for negotiations on an arms control deal to succeed the New START treaty that is set to expire in 2026.
Putin said that he and Biden agreed in a “constructive” summit to return ambassadors to their posts, lowering tensions and beginning consultations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons.
Putin made the announcement earlier at a news conference following the summit on Wednesday with Biden in Geneva.
Happening Now: President Biden holds a press conference from Geneva, Switzerland. https://t.co/vHDDY96jDy— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 16, 2021
Return of diplomats
The return of ambassadors follows a diplomatic tug-of-war that saw deep cuts in diplomatic personnel.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later said that the Russian ambassador will return to the US by the end of the month.
Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden described Putin as a killer.
US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
The two men concluded their last round of meetings during the summit at 5:05 pm local (1505 GMT) on Wednesday, the White House said, and Biden himself emerged from the elegant villa where the summit was held shortly after it ended.
The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and each one's top foreign aide.
Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, though he continued to deny US allegations that Russian government was responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.
Biden told reporters in Geneva that 16 types of critical infrastructure should be off limits to cyberattacks, “period.” He said that includes the energy and water sector.
It comes after a ransomware attack in May on one of the largest pipeline operators in the US forced the shutdown of fuel supplies to much of the East Coast for nearly a week.
That attack is blamed on a Russian criminal gang. Russia has not cooperated with criminal investigations of ransomware and does not extradite suspects to the US.
No hostility in meeting
President Putin described the tone of the talks with his US counterpart Biden as “constructive” and said there was no hostility during the talks.
“Our assessment of many issues differ, but in my view both sides demonstrated the desire to understand each other and looks for ways to get closer,” Putin said.
“The conversation was rather constructive,” he added.
Biden says he and Putin finished their presidential summit early thanks to having briskly worked through each man’s full agenda for the talks.
Biden said the two men sat across the table at their meeting site talking through each issue “in excruciating detail.”
At the end of that, “we looked at each other like, ‘Ok, what next?’’’ Biden said. “We had covered so much."
'Navalny deserved prison sentence'
Russia's president said opposition leader Alexei Navalny got what he deserved when he was handed a prison sentence.
Navalny, Putin’s most ardent political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 2 1/2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
Putin said Navalny received his due punishment for violating the terms of his probation, adding that he was aware that he was facing a prison sentence when he returned to Russia.
“He deliberately moved to be arrested,” Putin said, sticking to his habit of not mentioning Navalny by name.
Last week, a Moscow court outlawed the organisations founded by Navalny by labeling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September.
Striking a positive note
The two leaders kicked off their summit with a handshake outside the Geneva villa on Wednesday where the two presidents plan to confront each other over the worst US-Russia tensions in years.
Following an introduction by their host, Swiss President Guy Parmelin, Biden extended his arm for his first handshake with Putin since taking office in January.
"It's always better to meet face to face," Biden said as the two men sat down with their top diplomats, kicking off the summit, where ghosts of the Cold War hovered over modern-day US concerns about Russian cyberattacks and what the White House sees as a dangerous authoritarian drift.
Striking a positive note, Putin said he hoped the "meeting will be productive" as the tete-a-tete opened.
The setting – a sumptuous villa overlooking Lake Geneva – may be picturesque, but a gruelling diplomatic face-off that could last up to five hours awaits, with no food breaks planned.
"There will be no breaking of bread," a senior US official said.