Biden, Putin face off at tense summit
US prez pushes his counterpart for stable ‘great powers’ relationship
GENEVA, June 16: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin kicked off their summit Wednesday with a handshake outside the Geneva villa where the two presidents plan to confront each other over the worst US-Russia tensions in years.
Following an introduction by their host, Swiss President Guy Parmelin, Biden extended his arm for his first handshake with Putin since taking office in January. "It's always better to meet face to face," Biden said.
Biden pressed Vladimir Putin at their summit Wednesday to replace the combustible US-Russian standoff with a more "predictable" relationship between "two great powers" capable of agreeing to disagree.
Biden quickly got to the point: his desire to take US-Russian relations off their increasingly unstable trajectory, in which Washington accuses the Kremlin of everything from meddling in elections to cyberwarfare. "It's always better to meet face to face," he told Putin in a book-lined room in the villa, with a globe of the world placed between them.
"We are trying to determine where we have a mutual interest, where we can cooperate, and where we don't (to) establish a predictable and rational way in which we disagree -- two great powers," Biden said.
Putin noted that "a lot of issues" need addressing "at the highest level" and that he hoped the "meeting will be productive." Biden's apparent offer of an understanding -- if not necessarily a friendly relationship -- went a long way toward what Putin is reportedly seeking: increased respect on the world stage.
The reference to the United States and Russia as "two great powers" was sure to please the Kremlin leader, who has dominated his country for two decades, infuriating the West with invasions of Ukraine and Georgia, and often brutal crushing of political dissent.
Expectations were low for more than a modest thaw in relations. Illustrating the frostiness, no meal was planned during the scheduled five hours of talks, initially also attended by the two countries' foreign ministers and later by an expanded group of officials. "There will be no breaking of bread," a senior US official said.
The choice of Geneva recalled the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985. The summit villa, encircled with barbed wire, was under intense security. Grey patrol boats cruised along the lake front and heavily-armed camouflaged troops stood guard at a nearby yacht marina.
But in contrast with 1985, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly rogue regime.
From cyberattacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington's list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long. -AFP