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Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit

·5 min read

Expectations were low for President Joe Biden's first talks as commander in chief with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with neither side promising any breakthroughs beforehand. Neither side secured any wins, and neither lost very much.

Biden, who requested the meeting, hoped the summit would be the first step toward establishing a stable and predictable relationship between the two countries. And both players agreed afterward that it was "constructive" and "positive."

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No agreements were reached regarding Russian aggression toward Ukraine, ransomware cyberattacks, or Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's release from prison aside from the reinstatement of ambassadors in Washington and Moscow and the announcement of a "Strategic Stability Dialogue" focused on paring nuclear arms.

Here are five takeaways from the Switzerland summit.

Cooler power dynamics

Biden and Putin's polite-but-stilted interactions were a cool contrast from the Russian's warmer exchanges with former President Donald Trump during their 2018 Helsinki summit, which even conservatives said was a loss for the 45th U.S. commander in chief. The presidents only appeared publicly side-by-side twice: to shake hands on the front steps of the Villa La Grange and before their 90-minute one-on-one conversation accompanied only by their top diplomats and translators.

Framed by the 18th-century lakeside villa, Putin took his cues from Biden, accepting his extended hand and following his wave to the onlooking news media. At one point, the Russian avoided Biden's gaze, but the two seemed to share a couple of civil words. Biden flashed a smile before they headed inside, and aides closed the two large doors.

Biden and Putin went on to look awkward when members of the press were permitted into the villa's library for roughly five minutes before the start of their smaller gathering. The pair briefly spoke again to one another before ignoring their counterpart as reporters, TV crews, and photographers clamored to shout questions or capture images. While Biden patiently sat with a smile on his face, Putin came across disinterested, staring at the ground as he slumped in his chair.

Still no trust

The White House was quick to correct chatter that Biden had nodded at an American reporter asking the president if he trusted Putin. The journalist yelled her question at Biden during an unruly press event in which select news outlets were invited into the Villa La Grange's library to take photos and shoot TV footage of the presidents.

“During a chaotic free-for-all with members of the press shouting questions over each other, the president gave a general head nod in the direction of the media. He wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos," White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote in a statement.

Biden was pushed on the issue during his post-summit press conference, insisting "trust" was not at stake after Putin made claims such as recent cyberattacks were launched from the United States.

"He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down," he said. "This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest."

Whataboutism was the order of the day

Putin defended himself against Biden's criticism over his human rights record, including his treatment of Navalny, by deflecting with U.S. actions in Guantanamo Bay, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the Jan. 6 sacking of the Capitol building.

"Of the question of whom is murdering whom, people rioted and went into the Congress in the U.S. with political demands, and many people were declared as criminals, and they are threatened with imprisonment from 20 to 25 years," he said through a translator.

He added, "We sympathize with what was happening in the States, but we do not wish for that to happen in Russia."

Biden slammed the comparison between the events of Black Lives Matter and Jan. 6 as "ridiculous," contending human rights "will always be on the table."

"No president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values," he said. "That's just part of the DNA of our country."

He later confirmed he warned Putin that "the consequences" of Navalny dying in prison "would be devastating for Russia."

On time, but cut short

Putin surprised many observers by arriving in Geneva on time after repeatedly turning up late for previous U.S. presidents. The Russian was also scheduled to speak first to reporters during their talks and press conferences.

But while the Biden administration predicted the summit, containing two bilateral meetings, would last between four and five hours, the sessions lasted roughly 90 minutes each with a 45-minute break to separate them.

Biden explained the timing by saying the pair had been productive during their first session, asking reporters how often foreign leaders spend "two hours in direct conversation across the table going into excruciating detail."

"After two hours there, we looked at each other, like, OK, what's next?" he said.

Ending on a sour note

After eight days abroad, Biden cast a shadow over any progress he made in Europe by snapping at a reporter who pressed him on whether he was confident Putin would change in behavior.

"Maybe I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy, the last answer I gave,” Biden told reporters at Geneva Airport before climbing Air Force One's tall steps and heading home.

While leaving Hotel du Parc moments earlier, which is next door to Villa La Grange, Biden stopped to respond to a question from CNN's Kaitlin Collins.

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"Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?" she asked.

"I'm not confident I'm going to change his behavior. What the hell? What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?" Biden replied. "If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business."

It was an odd ending for a president who had tried to display himself as a levelheaded U.S. diplomat in chief after four years of the isolationist "America first" Trump era.

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Tags: News, National Security, Biden Administration, Joe Biden, White House, Foreign Policy, Vladimir Putin, Russia

Original Author: Naomi Lim

Original Location: Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit