In a meeting that lasted shorter than expected, Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed to disagree on familiar matters, but this Wednesday 16 was the star of a summit in Geneva qualified by both of “constructive and pragmatic”.
It doesn’t seem like much, and maybe it is. But if the fear in Europe was that there would be a Russian invasion of Ukraine in April, with threats of all kinds side by side, it is possible to see some progress in the first Biden-Putin meeting.
If boxing were the sport in question, the outcome of the meeting of around 3.5 hours, up to 5 hours in the White House plan, would be a technical draw or a narrow points victory for the Russian.
The reasons are two of the thorny issues discussed, the aforementioned Ukraine and cyber attacks.
Putin and Biden both reaffirmed their positions on the country of Volodimir Zelensky, the American insisting during his press conference on what he has already said: The United States supports Ukrainian sovereignty violated by pro-rebels. Russians occupying its has been supported by the Kremlin since 2014.
The Russian has already reiterated his point of view, according to which the West supported a “bloody blow” against his ally Viktor Yanukovych, then President of Ukraine, which led him to annex Crimea and foment civil war in the region of Donbass.
But both spoke the same language, citing solutions to the problem: that they be based on the Minsk agreements. Sewn in 2014 and 2015, they plan to return control of the east to Kiev, while retaining a degree of autonomy unacceptable to the Ukrainian political elite.
With the recent unfriendly exchange of words between Biden and Zelensky, who wants to accelerate the now unrealistic entry of Ukraine into NATO (Western military alliance), the smell of burning must have made itself felt in Kiev.
On cyber attacks, which are attributed to Russians in the 2016 and 2020 elections, but also in actions against U.S. government agencies last year, Biden was ambiguous.
He said that “Putin knows how we are going to act” if there are new attacks. The Russian simply denied any responsibility. And both have agreed to engage in conversations to set standards for security and response to future threats.
Such a partnership doesn’t really appear to be a big threat to the Kremlin after years of accusations of cyber vandalism, but Biden has kept his usual rhetoric that “the consequences will be devastating for Russia” if there is a new episode. .
Nothing about the past, but it was also not a repeat of Donald Trump’s genuflection during his meeting with Putin in 2018, when he only accepted the Russian version that he was not sponsoring anything bad in the virtual domain.
Here is the definition of pragmatism used by the two leaders. The American insisted that “human rights will always be on the table, that’s what we are,” specifically citing the case of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalni.
Putin, when questioned by reporters, called his opponent “that gentleman” and said he was paying for willful actions in defiance of Russian law.
Then he described exactly what was expected of him: to draw how the Kremlin views American support for opposition groups, now almost all classified as foreign agents and subject to stricter laws, as a form of outside interference.
Moreover, he compared them to the far-right vandals who attacked the Capitol on behalf of Trump on January 6. “I repeat what I told him: such comparisons are ridiculous,” Biden replied.
All are firm lines. The American said he insisted on press freedom and human rights, while Putin returned to the theme that he only reacts to external provocations. This hiss of “Western phobia” fits perfectly into the ongoing repressive campaign in Russia.
And the Russian always had the ace of the answer ready. “Who is the killer? Guantanamo remains open,” he said, joining Biden’s accusation against him and the infamous American prison in Cuba, where the law does not reach detainees, in the same sentence.
In practice, here the link that everyone proposed has been consolidated. Biden will be able to say that he was tough, said everything in front of Putin and warned him against his “red lines”, and the Russian will claim that he made explicit the contradictions intrinsic to the American discourse and that he stays where he is.
There have been specific advances. In addition to the issue of cybernetics, also as expected, the two presidents have come to an agreement and have started talks to improve the mechanisms for controlling nuclear weapons.
Owners of 90% of the world’s arsenals, Russia and the United States had already agreed to extend the main deal in the sector when Biden took over, reversing Trump’s policies. Now they have to switch to new technologies, like hypersonic missiles.
For the rest, countries will resume their normal diplomatic activities after being degraded following the return of ambassadors to their countries for consultations.
This in what was public, of course. There are a number of topics that may have been covered in great detail, such as Afghanistan, Iran and, of course, China that Biden sees as his true rival and to whom he devoted his greatest. effort during this trip to Europe – become hard against Beijing positions of the G7 and NATO.
Although Putin speaks of “a ray of hope” and that he and the American spoke “the same language” without hostility, it is predictable that things will remain as they are for now.
For observers, it’s better than any breakup, even though a speech at the bottom of the Air Force One stairs betrayed Biden’s thoughts on Russia: “I think she’s in a difficult position. ” Economically, he is right.
As in all these meetings, the dome was littered with small symbolic aspects.
The organization placed Putin as the first to arrive at the Villa La Grange mansion, giving the Russian a precedence he would like – but also preventing him from leaving Biden to wait, as he has already done with several world leaders.
The Russian arrived at 1:04 p.m. (8:04 a.m. GMT), four minutes later than expected. Biden arrived 15 minutes later and the two were greeted by Swiss President Guy Parmelin. At 1:25 p.m., after a brief welcoming statement from the host, the rivals were left alone for a photo of the handshake.
He was even exuberant, although Putin seemed more interested in turning to the cameras. Already 11 minutes later, posted with Lavrov and Blinken in the beautiful library of the mansion, the mood was different.
Visibly annoyed by the hubbub of photographers and cameramen, the two barely looked at each other. Biden had to clarify through his spokesperson that he did not say he “agreed with Putin” while waving an inaudible question from a reporter.
The Russian stammered something about wanting a productive meeting, and the American wanted it to be “predictable” to make a difference.
The body language was obvious: the Russian was adopting his usual position of a bored Slavic man, sprawled on the chair, his legs spread. Biden, on the other hand, who was trying to smile at the cameras, crossed his legs in a more noble demeanor.
This was of course part of the show, not least because later footage suggested the two leaders with less cluttered features.
The first round of conversation, with the four and the interpreters, ended in about two hours. There was a 45 minute break and everyone moved to another room. Then the conversations continued for about an hour, with five advisers next to each president.
The fact that the Russian gave the first press conference reflected the original strategy of the American, who was the one who called the summit: to showcase it and, at the same time, guarantee Biden the last word of the day.
While the Kremlin leader dodged the toughest issues, the fact that he stretched the conversation to one hour and insisted that they be asked drew attention.
At a particularly unusual time for the Russian press standard bovine, journalist Rachel Scott (ABC News, USA) said opponents of Putin are jailed or dead and delirious: “What are you afraid of?
The Russian, 68 and 21 in power, fought back towards the United States and stayed with them, but it is not every day that he is subjected to this type of inquisition.
Biden, ten years his senior and five months on the job, made a negative impression, refusing to answer a final question about his impression of Putin – whom he previously called heartless – giving the impression that someone who is considered as an autocrat is not the Russian.
It was the thirtieth time that the leaders of the White House and the Kremlin had met since World War II, including during the days of the Soviet Union. Putin has participated in four of these summits.