‘No threats’: What we learnt from Biden and Putin’s Geneva summit

·5 min read
President Joe Biden meets with his Russian counterpart Valdimir Putin at the Villa la Grange in Geneva on Thursday (AFP/Getty)
President Joe Biden meets with his Russian counterpart Valdimir Putin at the Villa la Grange in Geneva on Thursday (AFP/Getty)

Joe Biden’s first face-to-face meeting as president with Vladimir Putin was hotly anticipated amid deeply strained relations between their two countries.

After about four hours of talks at the Villa La Grange, a historic lakeside villa in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr Putin admitted that the current US president was “very different from President Trump”.

Mr Putin said after the two leaders met that there had been “no hostility” between the two, and Mr Biden later added that he had made “no threats” towards his counterpart.

Here are some of the things that have we learnt from the summit.

Joe Biden snaps at CNN reporter

Mr Biden snapped at CNN’s Kaitlan Collins after she asked him during his press conference why he was “confident” that Mr Putin would change his behaviour.

“I’m not confident he’ll change his behaviour – what the hell, what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?” an irritated Mr Biden responded.

Later, before boarding Air Force One, Mr Biden apologised to the White House press pack travelling with him for being “a wise guy” in his answer to the question, according to CNN’s David Chalian.

Ambassadors can return to posts

Mr Putin said that he and Mr Biden had agreed that their ambassadors could return to their jobs in Russia and the US.

He did not put a timeframe on the return of the ambassadors, but said that was just a “technical issue”.

We’ve reached an agreement that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and the US State Department would begin consultations on the full range of interaction on the diplomatic track,” said Mr Putin.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled to Moscow in March after Mr Biden said the country would “pay a price” for its interference in US elections.

The US ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, returned home in April after the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Russian individuals.

US and Russia will further discuss cybersecurity issues

Mr Putin said that he had agreed to discuss cybersecurity with the Biden administration, but gave no details.

“As for cybersecurity, we reached an agreement chiefly that we will start negotiations on that,” Mr Putin added. “I think that’s extremely important.”

Mr Putin pushed back at the notion that the Russian government was behind the ransomer attack in May on the Colonial Pipeline.

The US government has criticised Russia for the hack, which shut down half of the US east coast’s fuel network, as the criminal gang behind it are based in the country.

Prisoner swap could be on the cards

Russia and the US discussed the possibility of a prisoner swap, but did not reach a final agreement.

“The question about American citizens that were in Russian prisons, we discussed that there could be some compromise that we enter into between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department. They will be working on it,” said Mr Putin.

Former US marine Paul Whelan was sentenced to 16 years for spying, while Trevor Reed, also a former US marine, is serving a nine-year prison sentence for allegedly endangering the lives of two policemen in Moscow.

Neither leader invited the other to visit

Neither leader extended an invite for the other to visit either Moscow or Washington DC.

“President Biden did not invite me as his guest,” revealed Mr Putin.

“I didn’t invite him either. I think for visits like that, for meetings like that, you need to have the proper conditions. You need to be ready.”

Russian leader compared jailing of opposition leader to US Capitol attack

Mr Putin refused to answer questions on his imprisonment of political opponents, specifically Alexi Navalny, and compared it to the arrests of suspects in the 6 January US Capitol attack.

As for who is killing whom or are throwing whom in jail, people came to the US Congress with political demands,” said Mr Putin.

“Over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them. They face prison sentences of up to 28, maybe even 25 years. They’re being called domestic terrorists.”

Mr Putin also blamed Mr Navalny, without naming him directly, for his own arrest, saying that he knew there was a warrant out for him in his home country when he returned.

Mr Putin also brought up the racial justice movement in the US and the protests unleashed after the killing of George Floyd.

“America just recently had very severe events after well-known events, after a killing of an African American and an entire movement developed known as Black Lives Matter,” said Mr Putin.

“What we saw was disorder, destruction, violations of the law, etcetera. We feel sympathy for the United States of America, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory, and we’re doing our utmost in order to not allow it to happen.”

Mr Biden later told his own press conference that the equivalence by Mr Putin was “a ridiculous comparison”.

Philosophic Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin also displayed his philosophical side, when he told his press conference: “In life there is no happiness. There’s only the spectre of happiness.”

No threats by Mr Biden

Mr Biden told his press conference that he had not made any threats to Mr Putin.

“No, no, no, there were no threats, in fact, I hear that he quoted my mom today. We talked about basic, fundamental things, and I explained things on a personal basis,” said Mr Biden.

“There were no threats, just simple assertions. I let him know where I stood and what I thought we could accomplish together, and what, when there were violations of American sovereignty, what we would do.”

Future of press freedom in Russia

The president was also asked about whether he thought Mr Putin was open to greater press freedom in Russia.

“I wouldn’t put it that way, in terms of improving the climate, I would put it in terms of how much interest does he have in burnishing Russia’s reputation. That is a judgement I cannot make, I don’t know,” said Mr Biden.

The gifts

Mr Biden gave Mr Putin a pair of custom Aviator sunglasses made by Randolph USA, in addition to a crystal sculpture of an American bison by Steuben Glass of New York.

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