US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on Wednesday for talks aimed at stemming a rapid deterioration in relations between two countries plagued by mutual mistrust.
In their first face-to-face meeting as leaders, presidents will grapple with accusations, complaints and charges against each other, including allegations Russian cyber attacks and electoral interference, American sanctions against Moscow and the Kremlin’s fears about NATO’s military expansion in Eastern Europe.
Other irritants in the relationship are torn arms control deals, war in Ukraine and that of Moscow imprisonment of an opposition activist Alexei Navalny, leaving few obvious areas for cooperation.
Biden described Putin as a “worthy adversary” ahead of his meeting and said he would clarify to the Russian leader “what the red lines are.”
He said Russia was looking to drive a wedge in transatlantic solidarity and the United States was seeing an increase in malicious cyber activity.
“I will make it clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he wishes,” Biden said on Monday. “And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts like he has in the past, with respect to cybersecurity and some other business, then we will respond.” We will respond in kind.
The summit is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Geneva time and could last up to five hours, including breaks and discussions between the two delegations, the Kremlin said on Tuesday. The presidents will meet in two forms: one in a small group comprising the US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister and the other in a larger setting.
Biden visited Geneva after a week in Europe G7 meeting, allies of the EU and NATO. The response to threats posed by Russia has been mentioned constantly in talks with Western leaders. The US president said world leaders thanked him for hosting the summit, which some analysts criticized as offering Putin a diplomatic victory.
Moscow has sought to downplay expectations of any major breakthroughs in the talks. Analysts on both sides have suggested that by simply taking place, the meeting could at the very least mark a post-Cold War low point in bilateral relations.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, called relations between Moscow and Washington “disastrous”. “I think both sides understand that it is time to start tackling this backlog that has built up,” 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 United States wants to discuss human rights, cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan, and Washington’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, where Russia massed 100,000 troops earlier this year.
Kremlin officials said the talks will also include a potential exchange of citizens detained in each other’s prisons.
Ambassadors posted to the two countries left their posts earlier in the year after a series of events provoked by Biden who agreed with an interviewer that Putin was a “killer.” The two ambassadors are expected to return to their seats in Moscow and Washington after the summit, according to three people familiar with the plans.
While he acceded to Russian requests for diplomatic choreography after the meeting – which could suggest a thaw in relations – Biden will host a solo press conference rather than making a joint appearance with Putin.
In 2018, Donald Trump gave a joint press conference with Putin in which the American leader appeared to side with his Russian counterpart over that of his own intelligence community.