US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on Wednesday for talks aimed at halting a rapid deterioration in relations between two countries ravaged by mutual mistrust.
In their first face-to-face meeting as leaders, the presidents will face allegations, complaints and charges against each other, including alleged Russian cyber-attacks and election meddling, US sanctions against Moscow and the Kremlin’s doubts about NATO’s military expansion in Eastern Europe .
Other irritating factors in the relationship are torn arms control deals, war in Ukraine and Moscow’s imprisonment of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, leaving few obvious areas of cooperation.
Prior to his meeting, Biden described Putin as a “worthy opponent” and said he would clarify to the Russian leader “what the red lines are”.
He said that Russia was trying to drive a wedge in transatlantic solidarity and that the US is experiencing an increase in malicious cyber activity.
“I’m going to make it clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can work together if he wants to,” Biden said Monday. “And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has done in the past, regarding cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”
The summit is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Geneva time and could last up to five hours, including breaks and talks between the two delegations, the Kremlin said on Tuesday. The presidents will meet in two formats: one in a small group, including the US Secretary of State and the Russian Secretary of State, and the other in a larger setting.
Biden traveled to Geneva after a week in Europe to meet G7, EU and NATO allies. The response to Russia’s threats has been a constant topic of discussion with Western leaders. The US president said world leaders had thanked him for holding the summit, which some analysts criticized for giving Putin a diplomatic victory.
Moscow has tried to downplay expectations of major breakthroughs during the talks. Analysts on both sides suggested that by simply taking place, the meeting could mark at least a post-Cold War low in the bilateral relationship.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, described Moscow-Washington relations as “barely”. “I think both sides understand that it is time to address this backlog that has accumulated,” he told Russian news agencies.
The White House and the Kremlin have both said they will focus on arms control, cybersecurity and climate change. The US wants to talk about human rights, cooperation in Iran and Afghanistan and Washington’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, where Russia gathered 100,000 troops earlier this year.
Kremlin officials said the talks will also include a possible exchange of citizens in each other’s prisons.
Ambassadors posted to both countries left their posts earlier in the year following a series of events that led Biden to agree with an interviewer that Putin was a “murderer.” Both ambassadors are expected to return to their seats in Moscow and Washington after the summit, according to three people familiar with the plans.
Although he responded to Russian requests for diplomatic choreography after the meeting – which could indicate a thaw in relations – Biden will hold a solo press conference rather than appearing with Putin.
In 2018, Donald Trump gave a joint press conference with Putin in which the US leader appeared to be siding with his Russian counterpart over his own intelligence community.