The first-ever meeting between President Putin and President Joe Biden held on 16 June 2021 in Geneva carries high importance. Being realistic, one should not have expected any major breakthrough, but being optimistic, we must believe that it is just beginning and hope such high-level contacts will lead to better understanding and less confrontation among them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and US President Joe Biden agreed in a constructive summit on Wednesday to resume their countries’ ambassadors to their posts and begin negotiations to replace the last remaining agreement between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons. It is a good sign and will produce fruits soon. In fact, the Embassies in each other countries are vital to keeping close contact and liaison for promoting cooperation and overcoming differences. According to the UN charter, all disputes and differences are required to be addressed through diplomatic channels in an amicable manner. The resumption of Ambassadors may be considered a proper signal in the right direction. Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow nearly two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Putin said that the ambassadors were expected to return their posts soon in the coming days.
President Putin said there was no hostility during the talks that wrapped up more quickly than expected. It means there was no big issue to be discussed to prolong the meeting duration. It is also assumed that if there exists hamony, then the meeting must be short-cut.
Despite the two sides agreed 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. Optimistic!
Putin had the first crack at describing the results at a solo news conference when it was over. Biden followed with his own session with reporters. They agreed to avoid a joint press conference to avoid any complications. Accoring to the past practices, the joint statements were problematic and resulted in many disagreements later.
Putin admitted that Biden raised human rights issues with him, including the fate of popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin defended Navalny’s prison sentence and bounced repeated questions about the mistreatment of Russian opposition leaders by highlighting US domestic turmoil, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the 6 January Capitol insurgence.
Putin held forth for nearly an hour before international journalists. While showing boldness at queries about Biden pressing him on human rights, he also expressed a significant measure of respect for Biden as an experienced political leader.
The Russian leader noted that Biden repeated wise advice his mother had given him and also spoke about his family messaging that Putin said might not have been entirely relevant to their summit but demonstrated Biden’s moral values. Though he raised doubt that the US-Russia relationship could soon return to an extent of equilibrium of years past, Putin advocated that Biden was someone he could work with. It reflects a significant improvement in Joe Biden’s perception of President Putin.
The meeting was very proficient, Putin said. It was practical; it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the borderlines of trust and credibility.
Putin said he and Biden confirmed to begin negotiations on nuclear talks to potentially replace the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.
Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its military intervention supporting dissenters in eastern Ukraine. Talks resumed in 2017 but gained little traction and failed to produce an agreement on extending the New START treaty during the Trump administration.
The Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to return their ambassadors to their respective postings. Both countries had pulled back their top envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations chilled in recent months.
Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to instigate consultations on cybersecurity issues. However, he continued to deny US allegations that the Russian government was held responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.
The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning. Both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters. At least in their brief moments together in front of the press, their body language was not exceptionally warm.
Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted. Still, the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was very clearly not responding to anyone’s question but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.
The two leaders did shake hands. Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader after Swiss President Guy Parmelin welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit. When they were in front of the cameras a few minutes later, this time inside the grand lakeside mansion where the summit was held, they seemed to avoid eye contact.