A “killer” without “soul” whose government is “paranoid”.
This is how US President Joe Biden has previously described his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Over the past decade, Putin has become one of the most irritating thorns on the White House side.
The Kremlin angered and annoyed the United States with, according to Washington, a threat to invade Ukraine, an accumulation of weapons, hacker attacks and election interference.
Putin and Biden meet again in Geneva for their first summit on Wednesday amid frayed ties, growing pressure from the West on Moscow and growing Russia’s crackdown on national dissent.
But while Putin is known for his salty language and harsh responses to beards, he prefers to talk about Biden with cautious, almost flattering optimism.
“During my tenure, I got used to attacks from all kinds of angles and all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretexts,” he said. mentionned laughing Friday, answering an NBC correspondent’s question about being a “killer.”
A week earlier, Putin had said that Biden “is an experienced man, I hope very balanced, very precise. I sincerely hope that our meeting will be in a positive way ”.
Like Biden, Putin, who has met four US presidents since 1999, is also keeping his expectations of the summit low.
“I do not expect any breakthrough in Russian-American relations, nothing that can stun us all with results,” he said.
Ukraine is by far the biggest bone of contention.
In March and early April, Putin rallied tens of thousands of troops in annexed Crimea and along Russia’s border with Ukraine and its two pro-Russian breakaway regions.
For a while, war seemed imminent – until Biden called Putin on April 13 telling him to defuse tensions and offering to meet in Geneva in an apparent nod to the Russian leader.
Biden knows Ukraine better than other U.S. presidents in history – he’s been to the former Soviet nation six times and joked that he spent more time on the phone with the president of the time, Petro Poroshenko, than with his wife.
“Biden’s meeting with Putin will only resolve one question – how not to allow a real war,” Gennady Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker turned opposition leader, told Al Jazeera.
However, Alexey Mukhin, who heads the Moscow-based Center for Political Information, maintains that Biden will avoid discussing Ukraine due to his son Hunter’s hard work at a Ukrainian energy company that has sparked pressure from the government. ex-President Donald Trump on Kiev and, in turn, resulted in Trump’s first impeachment.
“Joe Biden will not push the Ukrainian subject because of certain corrupt circumstances linked to his son,” Mukhin told Al Jazeera.
From the North Pole to Damascus
Mukhin believes that two distant places – the Arctic and Syria – will dominate the talks as possible areas of cooperation.
Over the next two years, Moscow will hold the rotating presidency of the Arctic Council of Nations bordering the region where melting ice is opening up new shipping routes that could compete with the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca.
Western sanctions against Crimea included a ban on exporting offshore drilling technology that Russia needs to secure its share of the Arctic Bonanza which contains up to 90 billion barrels of oil and natural gas fields, this which exceeds Qatar’s proven reserves.
Meanwhile, Moscow is stepping up its military presence in the Arctic despite six-month nights and nine-month winters, as the region offers the shortest route for ballistic missiles from Russia to North America – or the reverse.
“We are concerned about some of the recent military activity in the Arctic,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in mid-May.
Regarding Syria, Moscow has stunned the world with its military intervention to save President Bashar Assad, and Washington understands that only cooperation with Moscow will help resolve the conflict.
Some analysts are convinced that Putin will sacrifice Assad if the West ensures that it does not encroach on Moscow’s renewed weight in the war-torn nation.
“Russia will likely agree to sacrifice Assad’s presidency, but only in exchange for maintaining some influence for itself in Syria,” wrote Lina Khatib, Middle East and North Africa program director at Chatham House. , in Foreign Policy magazine on June 9.
However, one of Russia’s best-informed Middle East experts disagrees.
“Who will benefit from a discussion [on the region]? This is not a major issue, but a secondary one, ”Moscow-based Alexey Malashenko told Al Jazeera.
Putin’s foreign minister echoes his boss’s low expectations for the summit – and uses a metaphor to describe the possibility of restoring bilateral ties.
“It takes two to tango. But if someone is breakdancing, things will be more complicated,” Sergey Lavrov said at a youth conference on June 9.
Lavrov mentioned one of the cornerstones of the global nuclear arms control architecture that Moscow and Washington have maintained for decades – and which could offer renewed cooperation.
The Kremlin has long been concerned about NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Romania and Poland, Russia’s Soviet-era satellites.
The United States says the system is designed to prevent an Iranian nuclear threat, but Moscow believes the system could be improved to fire long-range Tomahawk missiles at Russia.
Moscow looks forward to regular checks of the Aegis Ashore facilities and will let NATO inspect its short-range Iskander missiles in Russia’s westernmost Baltic region, Kaliningrad.
“We invite you to visit the Kaliningrad region and see the Iskanders, and in return, we want our experts to visit the missile defense bases that are being established in Romania and Poland,” Lavrov said.
But experts say the demand is nothing more than a game of the King of the Hill to boost Moscow’s prestige.
“It is a direct path to what Russia has been striving in vain since the 1990s – the status of guarantor of the security of Europe, on par with the United States”, Pavel Luzin, analyst based in Russia at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank, told Al Jazeera.
He said Biden is very unlikely to allow inspections – but can promise not to install the Tomahawks, which is technically impossible initially.
“There can be a bit of an exchange of statements to present at least something positive during the summit,” Luzin said.