With harsh words and respectful remarks in front of the cameras, Russian President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin of Russia entered face-to-face talks on Wednesday at a mansion on the Swiss lake, a hotly anticipated summit at a time when both leaders agreed that relations between them were very low.
Biden called the conversation between “two superpowers” and said “it’s always best to meet face to face.” Putin, meanwhile, said he hoped the talks would be “productive”.
The meeting in the room full of books had a bad start – both men seemed to avoid direct contact with each other during a short and tense moment of photography ahead of a heated journalists’ scrum.
Biden appeared to suggest he could take the Russian leader with his voice, shaking his head when asked by a reporter if Putin could be trusted. The White House later sent a tweet emphasizing that the president “did not openly answer any question, but shook his head in agreement with the general media.”
Putin ignored questions from reporters, including whether he was afraid of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The two leaders shook hands – Bidid held out his hand first and smiled at the Russian stoic leader – earlier in the day when they questioned Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.
The two are expected to meet four to five hours in broad talks.
For months, they sold sharp speeches. Biden has repeatedly called for Putin’s brutal attacks on Russian-led hackers in the U.S., undermining democracy by arresting Russia’s opposition leader and interfering in US elections.
Putin, meanwhile, has been embroiled in controversy over isms and obfuscations – pointing to a January 6 coup at the US Capitol to argue that the US has no business lesson on democratic processes and insists that the Russian government was not involved in any electoral disruption or cyber attacks. although US intelligence shows otherwise.
Now, the two meet for the first time face to face as leaders. Ahead of time, both sides set out to reduce expectations.
However, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to find “stability and speculation” in their relations, a seemingly simple goal from the president in dealing with someone he saw as one of America’s most vocal opponents.
“We have to decide where it is that we both want, and the world, to work together, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the places where we disagree, they make it clear what the red lines are.”
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman told the Associated Press on Wednesday that no success was expected and that “the situation is very serious in Russia-US relations.”
“However, the fact that the two presidents have agreed to meet and begin to talk openly about the problems is already a success,” Peskov said a few hours before the start of the conference.
Preparations for the meeting were carefully documented and strongly debated by both parties.
Biden first called a meeting on April in which he informed Putin that he would be firing many Russian strategists and imposing sanctions on individuals and companies, as part of efforts by the Kremlin in order to respond to interference in last year’s presidential election and burglary of government agencies.
Putin and his team were the first to arrive at the conference site: Villa La Grange, a mansion built on a large lake in Geneva. Next came Biden and his team. Putin arrived in Geneva on Wednesday just before the start of a planned meeting; Biden – who was in Europe for a week of meetings with his colleagues – arrived yesterday.
The three of them spent some time together in front of the cameras, but only Parmelin said so.