‘Predictability and stability’ Ahead of Geneva summit, White House officials hope for a frank conversation between Biden and Putin

Alexey Druzhinin / Pool / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are set to have their first meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16. According to the Kremlin’s announcement, Putin and Biden will discuss the prospects for bilateral relations, the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and the settlement of regional conflicts, among other things. However, according to U.S. officials, Washington doesn’t expect much from the summit. Indeed, as leading American newspapers have reported, the U.S. side is simply hoping that the Geneva meeting will be an occasion for Biden to improve his tense personal relationship with Putin.

As The New York Times recalls, Geneva hosted a similar summit at the height of the Cold War: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had his first meeting with U.S. President Ronald Reagan there in 1985, to discuss the arms race. That meeting was followed by three more summits, which led to a thaw in relations culminating in Reagan’s visit to Moscow in 1988 — where he announced that he no longer saw the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire.”

The upcoming Geneva summit will take place amid increased tensions between Russia and the U.S. — according to the New York Times, “The meeting comes at the worst point in Russian-American relations since the fall of the Soviet Union about 30 years ago.”

However, this time around, the White House isn’t expecting the one-day summit between the two heads of state to produce any major breakthroughs. Indeed, this is what U.S. officials told the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press. In fact, familiar sources said that Biden isn’t even aiming for a sort of “reset” in relations, as was pursued by former President Barack Obama. 

Instead, White House officials see this as an opportunity for Biden and Putin to forge personal ties and “gain a better understanding of each other’s interests and concerns.” “U.S. officials think the relationship with Putin will be complex and difficult, but they also view Putin as a highly personalized decision-maker and one whom Biden needs to cultivate,” The Washington Post writes. 

For more on Biden and Putin

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As a familiar source tells Politico, the Geneva summit should be viewed as “a chance for the two world leaders to be able to directly air grievances and see what common ground they may have going forward.” In this context, the best the U.S. can hope for is more “predictability and stability” in relations with Moscow, the New York Times underscores.

According to The Washington Post, Biden is expected to raise concerns about the recent buildup of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine — as well as concerns about Belarus, a Russian ally, forcing a passenger plane to divert to Minsk and subsequently arresting opposition journalist Roman Protasevich. Other topics on the agenda include nuclear proliferation, the coronavirus pandemic, and the fight against climate change. 

The New York Times says Biden also plans to bring up the prosecution and jailing of opposition politician Alexey Navalny and spend “considerable time” discussing cybersecurity, in an effort to stem the “rising tide of cyberattacks directed at the United States.” 

As the Washington Post notes, the Biden administration is already facing domestic criticism over the summit with Putin, particularly from members of the Republican Party. In a statement, Republican Senator Ben Sasse (from Nebraska) spoke out against “rewarding Putin” with the meeting. “Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we’re giving him his treasured Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimizing his actions with a summit. This is weak,” Sasse said. 

“We don’t regard the meeting with the Russian president as a reward — we regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to the criticism. “And President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our countries’ differences, not in spite of them.”

On May 26, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Russian officials don’t see the Geneva summit as an occasion for a “reset” either. “The experience of a reset is not the best one in our bilateral relations,” he recalled. Peskov also underlined the “negative potential” that has accumulated in Russia–U.S. relations, saying that the two presidents are unlikely to “find common ground on issues causing deep divisions” during their first summit. “At the same time, it would be also wrong to downplay the importance of this meeting,” he concluded.

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Translated by Eilish Hart


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