Biden and Putin were seen again minutes later, sitting next to their respective countries’ top diplomats inside what appeared to be a vast library within the villa. A globe was placed directly between them, with large American and Russian flags erected on either side.
The remarks were hard to understand despite the racket of journalists gathered, but Putin – joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – thanked Biden “for the initiative to meet today” and said he hoped that their meeting “will be productive”.
Biden, sitting next to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thanked Putin and replied, “As I said outside, I think it’s always best to meet face to face.” The four men were mostly expressionless throughout the photoshoot, though Biden smiled as reporters scrambled for better positions.
The press crowd covering the summit quickly turned into a chaotic scene, with Russian security forces jostling members of the media as White House officials shouted at the Russians for their treatment of journalists.
After Biden, Putin, Blinken and Lavrov’s initial meeting – along with interpreters – the two presidents will each be joined by four more assistants in a second session. For Biden, the US delegation will include National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and Russia National Security Council Director Eric Green.
Men are expected to take breaks from meetings as needed, but they will not share meals together. “No breaking of the bread,” said a senior administration official.
Biden aides said the president plans to pressure Putin directly on cyberattacks, human rights and Russian aggression in Ukraine. But, they also say, Biden hopes to talk to him about areas where they might have common ground, including nuclear weapons control and climate change.
“When the other party tries to say that there are issues that are not on the agenda or that will not be on the agenda, for the American president, nothing is excluded”, said a senior administration official. “Of course, human rights are not excluded, and high-profile individual cases are not excluded.”
Returning home, the president continued to face criticism from Republicans that the meeting Biden suggested rewards Putin and puts Russia on par with the United States. Even some Democrats are urging Biden to take a tougher line.
The White House has said it does not expect the meeting to result in major political agreements, but says it is the first step in establishing a relationship between the two, who last met. times ten years ago.
“We don’t expect a lot of deliverables from this meeting,” the administration official said. “I think we expect there will be areas where Chairs will give their teams extra work.”
One small exception: the two countries have left open the possibility that their ambassadors can return to their respective countries. The ambassadors returned to their home countries following US sanctions against Moscow for the SolarWinds hack and the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition figure Alexey Navalvy; Russia has imposed a reciprocal sanctions list on Washington – but the two ambassadors are now in Geneva for the meeting.
In recent weeks, Putin has continued to face allegations that he amassed troops along the Ukrainian border, authorized Russian actors to engage in cyber attacks, suppressed political dissent and signed agreements with the Ukrainian government. ‘Iran to provide them with satellite technology.
Earlier this week, Putin told NBC News he couldn’t guarantee that Navalny, one of Putin’s fiercest critics, would leave prison alive. Navalny was sentenced to prison after returning to Russia from Germany in January after recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent.
The Biden administration has imposed sanctions, but members of both sides want it to do more on the nearing completion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The last four presidents have sought to reconnect with Russia to varying degrees and with limited success. George W. Bush sadly said he looked Putin in the eye and scanned his soul. Obama called his reset attempt. In 2018, President Trump caused a firestorm for blindly accepting Putin’s denial of electoral interference, contradicting multiple assessments by US intelligence agencies, after the two leaders met in Helsinki.
Michael McFaul, former Obama ambassador to Russia, who was present at Biden’s last meeting with Putin ten years ago, said Biden had to be careful of Putin’s tendency to equate his own behavior with that of others. .
Biden’s comment earlier this week that seemed to suggest he would be open to a cybercriminal swap left some Russian experts worried that Biden would fall for Putin’s tactics in the same way Trump did. when he said that Moscow could extradite criminals to the United States if Washington made Americans available to Russia for questioning. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tried to quickly clarify Biden’s comments, noting that the president “was not saying, ‘I’m going to trade cybercriminals. “”
The meeting comes on the last day of Biden’s eight-day trip to Europe in which US allies in the G-7 and NATO warmly greeted him after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. Biden consulted with other world leaders about Putin’s meeting and prepared for the bilateral session with Blinken, Sullivan and other political experts.
Biden’s advisers have said the president will outline areas of America’s vital national interests and indicate that when Russian activities run counter to those interests, they will be answered.
“He prepared for this as he prepares for every major international engagement. He reviews the problems – written documents; he cares about digging into the details, ”the official said. “It means a lot to him. And he also had the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of advisers across the government who have in-depth expertise on Russia, as well as to hear from outside experts. ”
After the meeting, Biden and Putin are each expected to hold separate press conferences. Biden will wait until Putin is finished before starting. Wednesday night, Biden is expected to return to Washington.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.