US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may have left Geneva feeling a job well done. The summit between two countries, plagued by mutual mistrust, is over without major disagreement and an important list of areas of cooperation has been agreed.
But fleshing out the details and making tangible progress will be much more difficult, Russia warns.
“It is a challenge for higher diplomatic mathematics,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. “In this case, of course, it is important to show not only political will, but also a creative approach.”
Putin and Biden agreed at Thursday’s summit to resume arms control talks, establish bilateral discussions on cybersecurity and explore the potential of exchanging citizens detained in each other’s prisons. Both sides have failed to make progress in these areas in the past.
“There is no complete correspondence,” Ryabkov said in an interview published by the Foreign Ministry on Friday. “If that were the case, that would mean by and large that all the deals have already been made. ”
“On the contrary, we have the impression that the American approach contains very different constants from ours. Combining these approaches, these two formulas, will be a difficult task, ”he said, referring to the arms control talks, adding that further consultations could start“ in a few weeks ”.
The United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – which banned land-based missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 km – under President Donald Trump and has resisted talks on an agreement replacement that would not include China.
Washington, meanwhile, accused Russia of ordering, supporting or encouraging cyber attacks against US companies, ministries and infrastructure. Moscow rejects these claims and says it is also a constant victim of hacking attempts.
And while Putin and Biden have claimed that there will be an ongoing dialogue between their armies in Syria, they are still in direct opposition to Moscow’s support for Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Biden said the test would be whether talks progressed over the next three to six months, but injected his own note of skepticism about the task that awaits reporters after the summit: “When did I say that was I confident? “
Their separate press conferences allowed the two executives to give each other professional compliments while reiterating long-standing complaints.
Biden condemned Russia’s treatment of opposition activist Alexei Navalny and warned against “Devastating consequencesFor Moscow if he were to die in prison, and also criticized the harassment of foreign media by the Kremlin.
Putin, speaking previously, compared Navalny’s incarceration to those prosecuted for participating in the January riot at the U.S. Capitol, and cited the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay to accuse Biden of rights hypocrisy of man.
But the general attitude of the two suggested that the talks had at least halted the spiraling descent of relations between the two countries to a post-Cold War nadir.
“We warned against undue expectation for this summit from the start. But we can say now, first and foremost, based on the opinion of the president himself, that this can be described as rather positive, ”Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday morning.
“The two leaders had the chance to present their positions directly and to understand more or less clearly where interaction is possible and where there cannot be interaction at this time due to categorical disagreements.”
In a step that should help both sides turn presidential agreements into tangible results, each country’s ambassadors are expected to resume their duties in the coming days, after months of absence following decisions to send them home for consultations.
But Peskov warned of rapid progress. No concrete cybersecurity deal has been reached, he said, and “no deadline” for a possible prisoner exchange.
“There are discussions about the framework at the state level, and then a very, very difficult job will start,” he said, referring to the exchange of prisoners. “You have to sit down and talk at the work level. Indeed, it is the same for all other problems.
A senior Biden administration official, saying the summit’s goal was to inject stability and predictability into the relationship, also kept expectations low.
“[W]We are not flipping a switch, ”the official told reporters after the summit. “It will be an ongoing process and the ultimate test is whether there are practical results.”