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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Biden and Putin Meet for First Time

In their first official meeting, President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Swiss city of Geneva. Among the topics discussed were human rights, cybersecurity, and the restoration of each country’s ambassadors.

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet for the first time, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: Reuters)

In preparation for his meeting with President Biden in Switzerland, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that the relationship between the United States and Russia was at its “lowest point”. For many in both countries, this assessment seems to be correct. After a period of relative détente after the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the United States and Russia seems to be nearly irreparable, but President Joe Biden met with his Russian counterpart to begin the first steps to repairing the relationship of the two powers. The summit came immediately after two events which sparked much outrage against the Russian state: the hacking of critical state infrastructure in the United States, including an oil pipeline which caused a spike in gas prices on the East Coast, and the imprisonment of Russian democracy activist Alexei Navalny. The alleged Russian interference in the last two Presidential elections in the United States have also worsened the already fragile relationship between the two states. Further topics discussed included the situation in the Ukraine, as well as arms control.

At the end of their face-to-face meeting, which lasted about three hours, both leaders gave solo press conferences, an unusual end to diplomatic summits, and a visual reference point for the frayed relationship between the two countries. United States President Joe Biden made it clear that while he did not threaten Russia directly, he did tell Mr. Putin that the United States would respond to any further cyberattacks and gave Mr. Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure segments which were “off-limits” to Russian cyberhackers. President Biden reaffirmed the possibility of retaliatory cyberattacks on Russia, if cyberattacks from Russia did not stop immediately.

In his solo press conference, Mr. Putin told reporters that he felt the United States was in no position to “lecture” Russia on human rights, considering the events which transpired on January 6th and the subsequent arrests of Americans who participated in the failed coup attempt. Mr. Putin said that Russia’s security crackdowns on political rivals are meant to quell “disorder”, such as that caused by Black Lives Matter protestors; a comparison which was swiftly rebuked by President Biden during his press conference. President Biden said that he had no other choice than to raise concerns over human rights abuses, labeling assurances of human rights as the “DNA of America”.

The two leaders did not directly rule out further meetings, especially about topics such as arms control and cybersecurity, but did not explicitly state how those meetings would take shape, or when they could take place. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of further arms reduction treaties but offered no further details. Both leaders also discussed the possibility of a prisoner exchange, since both countries are harboring jailed citizens of the other country, with Mr. Putin stating that there is an “opportunity for compromise” on this topic.

The summit did have some brighter moments. During Mr. Putin’s solo press conference, he described President Biden as a “constructive, experienced partner and ‘spoke the same language’”, according to Reuters. President Biden described the summit as being about finding a “genuine prospect” for change, while Mr. Putin described a “glimpse of hope” between the two historic rivals.

While the gap between the two rivals is still extremely large, the two leaders did not completely close the door to an improvement of relations through diplomacy, offering a small window of hope for the future.

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