July 28, 2021

Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden tried to iron out their disagreements when they first met

The meeting in Geneva between the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Poutin, which lasted less than four hours, began with a stampede. A few tens of seconds devoted to the photo shoot – after hesitation, the two leaders briefly shook hands, a gesture that has become rare in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – then the security services pushed back the journalists, with more or less courtesy, like the shows a video of the Washington Post.

But this episode did not set the tone for the discussions. It must be said that the two presidents had an excuse to be in a hurry: they had to evoke nothing less than Ukraine, Belarus, disinformation, computer attacks, not to mention the Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny. At the end of their meeting, they each joined their delegation for two separate press conferences, unlike the joint press conference which followed the meeting between the Russian President and former US President Donald Trump in 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.

“No animosity”

The meeting with Joe Biden was “constructive”, declared Vladimir Poutine, during his press conference, on June 16, 2021, in Geneva (Switzerland).

Mr. Poutine, who was the first to speak, blew hot and cold. The Russian president described the atmosphere of the meeting: “There was no animosity”, adding that, “On many questions, [leurs] evaluations diverge, but both parties have demonstrated a desire to understand each other and seek ways to reconcile positions ”.

Unsurprisingly, he said that Mr. Biden was “An experienced statesman”, ” very different “ by Donald Trump. He explained that their one-to-one exchange – without Foreign Ministers Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov – “Had lasted nearly two hours”. “It is not all world leaders who receive so much attention”, he added.

The Russian president announced that the two countries had agreed to a return of their respective ambassadors, recalled by Moscow and then Washington in March and April. They agreed to start negotiations on nuclear in order to replace the New Start treaty, which limits nuclear weapons after its expiration, in 2026. He also assured that the United States should not worry about militarization Russian Federation in the Arctic, a strategic region where Russia does not hide its ambitions.

He added that the two countries had agreed on a dialogue on “Cybersecurity”, adding however that “The greatest number of cyberattacks in the world come from American space” and criticizing Washington’s lack of cooperation on the matter.

Asked about Alexeï Navalny, Mr. Putin immediately embarked on a long diatribe against the United States on this theme, evoking, pell-mell, the attack on Congress on January 6, the bombing of civilians in Afghanistan or police violence against the African-American minority, before declaring that the Russian opponent “Knew he was breaking the law” by not respecting the conditions of a suspended sentence while he was treated in Germany after a poisoning.

Joe Biden’s tune-ups

Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin against any interference in the US elections.

For his part, Mr. Biden confirmed that the meeting took place in an atmosphere « positive », recognizing that there were a lot of expectations. “Nothing replaces a tête-à-tête”, he declared, pragmatic, recalling that the two countries have common interests. He also said that the United States was “Back, alongside their allies”, to defend democratic principles. He assured to have informed his Russian counterpart of the need “Basic rules” to respect for the two camps within the framework of their relations. He added : “I did what I came to do. “

Mr Biden cautioned against interference in the US election. “I made it clear that we would not tolerate attempts to violate our democratic sovereignty or destabilize our democratic elections, and that we would respond”, did he declare. Asked about computer attacks, the 46e President of the United States reminded his counterpart that “Some critical infrastructures should be untouchable, whether by cybernetic or other means”. “I gave him a list” sixteen specific entities, “From the energy sector to our water distribution systems”, he clarified.

Russia, because of its common border with China, a major economic and military power, “Don’t look for a cold war” with the United States, assured Mr. Biden. Finally, he warned that the consequences for Russia would be “Devastating” if Mr. Navalny, imprisoned, were to die.

Many areas of disagreement

Ahead of their meeting, the two leaders expressed their hope for a more stable and predictable relationship, while their differences are numerous and concern a range of issues. On Monday, at the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Mr. Biden had promised to tell Mr. Putin what were “Its red lines” : “We are not looking for a conflict with Russia, but we will respond if Russia continues its activities”, he had declared. In Brussels, Mr Biden had issued a very clear warning about Mr Navalny, claiming that his death “Would be a tragedy” who “Would only deteriorate relations with the rest of the world. And with [lui] ».

For his part, the Russian president, who has already rubbed shoulders with four other American presidents since coming to power at the end of 1999, obtained what he wanted: the holding of the summit as an illustration of the importance of Russia on the world stage. In an interview with the American channel NBC, he said he hoped the Democratic president was less impulsive than his Republican predecessor. But he also took the opportunity to highlight how much of a man he believes Mr. Trump was. “Talented”.

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Le Monde with AFP, AP and Reuters