GENEVA – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have begun their highly anticipated summit in Geneva, the Swiss capital chosen as a location for the summit for its history of political neutrality.
The leaders thanked each other during the brief, and chaotic press opportunity at the beginning of their meeting where American and Russian media jostled each other.
“Mr. President, I’d like to thank you for your initiative to meet today. I know that you’ve been on a long journey,” said Putin via an interpreter. “The U.S. and Russian relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest-level meeting. And I hope that our meeting will be productive,” he added.
Biden responded in kind. “Thank you,” Biden said. “As I said outside, I think it’s always better to meet face to face.”
Both sides have been underscoring opportunities for cooperation but are downplaying expectations for any improvement in tense relations between Moscow and Washington. The meeting is expected to be more of an airing of grievances than a platform to reach significant agreements.
“We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” said a senior administration official, briefing VOA and other reporters on board Air Force One during Biden’s flight to Switzerland.
Putin landed in Geneva shortly before his arrival at Villa La Grange, the summit location, around 1 pm local time. Biden arrived at the venue shortly afterward – a diplomatic dance the White House choreographed to avoid a repeat of the Helsinki Summit in 2018 where Putin’s late arrival kept then President Donald Trump waiting for over 30 minutes. The two shook hands before going into talks.
P+1 followed by P+5
After the initial greeting and meeting with the host, President of the Swiss Confederation Guy Parmelin, the two leaders conduct their first session in a “P+1” format. Biden is accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken while Putin has Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at his side. There is an interpreter for each side.
Following the smaller format, the American and Russian delegations hold a wider “P+5” meeting. That meeting is expected to last at least four hours according to the senior administration official. The official said the U.S. and Russians agreed to build in flexibility to allow the leaders to “make determinations about the best way to conduct their business,” but added there will be “no breaking of bread” between the leaders.
The official said Biden’s goals include seeking areas where the United States and Russia can work together while clearly stating U.S. vital national interests and making it clear that “Russian activities that run counter to those interests will be met with a response.” He also aims to lay out his “vision for American values and our national priorities.”
One possible outcome from the summit is the reversal of the recall of each country’s ambassador. U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan and Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov returned home earlier this year amid worsening U.S.-Russia relations. Both are in Geneva and will participate in the P+5 part of the summit.
The meeting concludes Biden’s first trip abroad as president. During the past week, he has attended the G-7 summit and held talks with NATO and European Union leaders, seeking to boost relations with allies and consult with them about the U.S.-Russia talks.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin said U.S.-Russia ties had deteriorated to their “lowest point in recent years.”
Asked by a reporter shortly after his arrival Tuesday in Geneva if he was ready for his meeting with Putin, the U.S. leader said, “I’m always ready.”
The administration official told reporters Tuesday that cybersecurity, in particular ransomware attacks, “will be a significant topic of conversation” between Biden and Putin.
In April, Biden expelled 10 Russian diplomats and imposed new sanctions on six Russian technology companies that provide support to the cyber program run by Putin’s intelligence services linked to the hacking of the SolarWinds information technology company.
In May, two key U.S. businesses — Colonial Pipeline, which transports fuel in the southeastern United States, and the JBS meat production company — were targeted in cyberattacks believed to have originated in Russia. Both Colonial and JBS paid millions of dollars in ransom to restore their business operations, although U.S. law enforcement officials have recovered most of the money Colonial paid.
Putin has rejected U.S. claims that Moscow and Russian hackers are carrying out debilitating cyberattacks on American companies and government agencies.