By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said they found some common ground on minor issues at their first face-to-face summit while major differences that have brought bilateral ties to one of their lowest points since the Cold War remain.
Following more than three hours of talks in Geneva on June 16, Biden said the discussions between the two leaders had been intense and detailed to the point that “we didn’t need to spend more time talking.”
For his part Putin said the meeting features pragmatic talks with a constructive, experienced partner, that spoke “the same language” even if their relationship doesn’t reach the point of friendship.
“We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war,” a joint statement issued after the summit in the Swiss city of Geneva said.
The summit came as Putin continues to consolidate his dominance of the country’s political system, squeezing opposition activists like Aleksei Navalny and throttling independent media and NGOs ahead of Russia’s September parliamentary elections.
Ahead of the meeting, expectations for any substantial gains were low, with both sides expressing pessimism on the prospects of significant progress given the range of issues — from arms control and cyberhacking to election interference and Ukraine — that have widened the divide between the two superpowers.
In a show of that chasm, Biden and Putin held separate news conferences after the talks, a far cry from the more chummy atmosphere the Russian leader had at a 2018 summit with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
The U.S. president said he had told Putin “we need some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by,” adding: “I did what I came to do.”
He added that Putin’s actions “diminishes” his country’s standing on the world stage.
“What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he’s engaged in?” Biden, who months earlier said in an interview that he believed Putin was a killer, said.
“It diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power,” Biden added on June 16.
For his part, Putin, who held his press conference first, said there was no hostility during the meeting and that the conversation was “rather constructive.”
“Our assessment of many issues differ, but in my view both sides demonstrated the desire to understand each other and look for ways to get closer,” he said.
Putin said Moscow and Washington had agreed to launch nuclear arms control talks to build on the New START treaty, a cornerstone of global arms control.
The joint statement said “the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”
The summit started at Geneva’s famed Villa de la Grange with just over 90 minutes of discussions between the two leaders along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. After a short break, the presidents met for another session involving additional aides that lasted about 65 minutes.
Biden said he and Putin agreed to further discussions on keeping certain types of critical infrastructure off-limits to cyberattacks. Biden also said they will have additional talks on the pursuit of criminals carrying out ransomware attacks.
He told reporters in Geneva that 16 types of critical infrastructure — including the energy and water sectors — should be off limits to cyberattacks, “period.”
The focus on cyberattacks comes after a ransomware attack in May on one of the largest pipeline operators in the United States forced the shutdown of fuel supplies to much of the East Coast for nearly a week.
The United States has blamed the attack on a Russian criminal gang and says Moscow has not cooperated with criminal investigations on ransomware and has not extradited suspects to the United States.
Earlier, Putin said Russia and the United States shared a responsibility for nuclear stability, and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New START arms limitation treaty.
Biden said he told Putin that human rights will always be on the table, and that he will continue to raise the issue, including the arrest of Russian opposition politician and Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny. He also brought up the case of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S.-funded independent broadcaster, which Russian authorities have targeted through its so-called “foreign agent” legislation.
The Russian leader dismissed Washington’s concerns over the crackdown on dissent and the free press, as well as Russia’s increased military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border.
Navalny was arrested early this year when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had received treatment for a near-fatal poisoning inside Russia with a Soviet-era nerve agent. Navalny has blamed Putin directly for the attack, a claim the Kremlin has denied.
Ambassadors To Return
One tangible point of finding common ground was an agreement between the president to return their ambassadors to their posts in a bid to lower tensions.
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden made his comments in the interview about Putin.
U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
Since taking office, Biden, the fifth U.S. president to meet with Putin, has hit Russia with two rounds of economic sanctions.
But he has also agreed to extend the New START arms control treaty and declined to block completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will increase Russian gas exports to Germany and decrease transit fees paid to Ukraine for use of its pipeline network.
For Putin, now in his 21st year as Russia’s preeminent leader, the summit amounted to a meeting of “Great Powers” — a reflection of his nostalgia for Soviet might and a way to show his domestic audience that Russia can go toe-to-toe with the United States on questions of global importance.
After their respective press conferences, Biden flew back to Washington while Putin immediately returned to Russia.