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Biden, Putin Meet for Tense Talks in Geneva

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GENEVA—President Biden met with Russian President

Vladimir Putin

for a summit in which he is expected to raise a number of thorny issues, from Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine to alleged cyberattacks against the U.S.

“I hope our meeting will be productive,” Mr. Putin said at the 18th-century villa in a park overlooking Lake Geneva where the summit was taking place. He thanked the U.S. president for initiating it and noted that issues between the nations have accumulated.

“It is always better to meet face to face,” Mr. Biden said.

Both sides have played down the prospects of a thaw in relations, although U.S. officials have suggested some headway could be made on sticking points such as nuclear-arms control.

In response to a question from a reporter about whether the two men trusted each other, Mr. Biden nodded. The White House later said Mr. Biden wasn’t responding to the question. Another reporter asked Mr. Putin if he feared jailed opposition leader

Alexei Navalny

and what he would do if Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Mr. Putin looked up but didn’t respond.

In a sign of the tensions between the two countries, Russian and U.S. reporters clashed outside the villa, with Russian media and security officials pushing U.S. reporters and jostling for position. The scene devolved into a shouting match as the journalists fought to enter the meeting.

Biden, Putin Meet for Tense Talks in Geneva 2

President Biden, right, met Russian President Vladimir Putin first the first time while in office at a villa in Geneva on Wednesday.



Photo:

Mikhail Metzel/TASS/getty images

Throughout his first visit overseas as president, meeting Group of Seven and European leaders and the U.S.’s partners at NATO, Mr. Biden has signaled that he wants to show that the U.S. and its allies won’t tolerate what it regards as provocative actions by the Kremlin and will counter the growing influence of autocratic powers.

Mr. Putin has also expressed his interest in pursuing a dialogue with Mr. Biden, describing the American president as a more predictable leader than his predecessor, but has made clear that he won’t be cowed.

Both sides have acknowledged that their relationship has reached a post-Cold War low in recent years, with Moscow recently including the U.S. on its list of unfriendly nations.

For the Russians, “the general purpose of the summit is to get an understanding of what to expect from the Biden administration and from the United States in the upcoming 3½ years,” said Pavel Sharikov, a senior researcher at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow. “Russia is not proactive in Russian-American relations, Russia is more reactive.”

Mr. Biden has faced criticism from some Senate Republicans for giving Mr. Putin what they say is an undeserved audience during his first trip as U.S. president, pointing to a spate of cyberattacks from Russia-based hackers, the Kremlin’s treatment of its political opponents and a military buildup on the borders of Ukraine.

Ahead of a meeting in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Biden made it clear that standing up to Russia remains a priority. But Russian state media is casting Putin as the stronger political heavyweight, giving a view of what the Kremlin hopes to gain. Image: VGTRK/Rossiya 24

Senior Biden administration officials have been working to carefully orchestrate the event to ensure that it doesn’t further elevate Mr. Putin on the world stage and the U.S. president has been prepping for the meeting for days, U.S. officials said. Mr. Biden’s aides have studied how Mr. Putin interacted with past presidents and they have consulted U.S. experts on Russia who have served under presidents of both main political parties.

The bilateral meeting is scheduled to last for four or five hours. Some of the discussions will also include Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in addition to other officials, aides said.

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The two leaders are likely to discuss cybersecurity, arms control, Ukraine and the fate of Mr. Navalny, officials from both countries said. Mr. Biden warned the Russian president earlier this week that there would be consequences if Mr. Navalny died in prison. The prominent dissident held a hunger strike earlier this year in protest at what he described as a lack of adequate medical treatment.

During his long career in Washington, Mr. Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has traveled extensively to Russia and other countries in the region, and met with Mr. Putin in 2011 while serving as vice president.

Mr. Biden has been cautious about inflaming tensions with the Russian leader in the run-up to the meeting. He has previously described Mr. Putin as a killer who has no soul, but this week called him “a worthy adversary.”

In a sign of how carefully the White House has approached the summit, there will be no joint news conference with Mr. Putin, like the one President

Donald Trump

held with the Russian leader in 2018. U.S. officials have described Mr. Putin as unpredictable and are wary of providing him a larger global audience.

Instead, the two leaders will hold separate media conferences after the event.

During a press conference at the conclusion of the summit between leaders of the Group of Seven on Sunday, President Biden discussed working together with allies, global vaccine donations and how the group plans to approach challenges posed by China. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Biden in Europe

More WSJ coverage on the president’s trip, selected by the editors.

Write to Ann M. Simmons at [email protected] and Andrew Restuccia at [email protected]

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