"We were speaking the same language": Biden and Putin meet in first presidential summit

Geneva, Switzerland - President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin got a feel for each other in Geneva on Wednesday, pledging to follow up the first session with further talks and efforts to restore some diplomatic outreach between the countries.

President Joe Biden (l) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin met for talks at the Villa La Grange on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden (l) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin met for talks at the Villa La Grange on Wednesday.  © IMAGO / Xinhua

The discussions were pragmatic and positive, both said in separate press conferences, after a meeting that had been expected to focus as much on "red lines" as well as on shared interests.

Biden and Putin agreed to reinstate their ambassadors, after the envoys returned home earlier this year as tensions between the two countries ratcheted upwards, the Russian president said afterwards.

Each staged a separate press conference, commenting on the meeting that Biden described as "constructive."

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Putin said the talks were "not hostile" and "constructive," despite many divergent positions between them. He described Biden as a "very experienced politician."

He also compared Biden with his predecessor, Donald Trump, and called his US counterpart a "very balanced, professional man."

Putin also noted a change in approach since Donald Trump, noting that Biden's predecessor was "different."

While four to five hours had been set aside for the talks in the villa overlooking Lake Geneva, they finished after three.

Asked afterwards why the discussions had not continued longer, Biden said leaders did not tend to hold talks beyond two hours to avoid "going into excruciating detail."

For his part, Biden said, "I think we have real opportunities."

However, he noted that the two had not become close friends.

"This is not about trust. It's about self-interest, and about verification of self-interest," Biden said.

Arms control, cybersecurity, and prisoner exchange were hot button discussion topics

The two world leaders shook hands as they met for their first presidential summit in Geneva.
The two world leaders shook hands as they met for their first presidential summit in Geneva.  © IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

As expected, arms control was high on the agenda. The two leaders pledged to set up consultations for greater strategic stability, Putin said.

After the meeting, Biden told journalists he did not think Putin wanted another Cold War.

"It's not in anyone's interests," the US president said.

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In terms of foreign policy, they also discussed Afghanistan, Syria, and the nuclear deal with Iran. Biden said that Putin was prepared to "help" on Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Libya.

Their talks also covered cybersecurity, a fraught area after the US launched diplomatic and financial offensives against Russian officials and businesses following election-meddling and Moscow-linked cyberhacks.

Putin said they had agreed on the need for further negotiations on cybersecurity. Biden also added that he made it clear to the Russian leader that the US also has significant cyber capabilities.

"There were no threats, just simple assertions, letting him know where I stood, what I thought we could accomplish together, and when they are violations of US sovereignty, what we are going to do," Biden summed up.

Biden also said that he had emphasized the importance of following international norms – and that it was in both countries' interests to follow these.

Asked afterwards about a possible prisoner exchange, Putin said he and Biden were open to the idea, but did not say any agreement had been made on the matter.

"We might be able to find some kind of compromise," said Putin, noting that the two leaders were speaking "the same language" during their talks.

He explained Moscow and Washington officials would be further discussing the possibility.

Putin compares opposition leader Navalny to rioters at the Capitol

The leaders and their teams discussed arms control and human rights issues on Wednesday.
The leaders and their teams discussed arms control and human rights issues on Wednesday.  © IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

When questioned on the topic of human rights, Putin said Biden had broached the issue but did not mention any areas of agreement.

Later, Biden said when he had addressed the subject of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin had compared the situation to the January 6 storming of the Capitol in Washington, a comparison Biden described as "ridiculous."

The incarceration of Navalny is "justified," claimed Putin, arguing that the dissident politician had "ignored" Russian laws.

"There's nothing to talk about there," the Russian president told reporters. "This man knew he was violating every applicable law."

Navalny was jailed earlier this year because he had failed to check in with court officials as required under the terms of his release from an earlier stint in jail.

Navalny was not able to do so because he had been in Germany recovering after a poisoning attempt, which many have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating, although Putin and officials have denied this repeatedly.

Putin also justified a recent court ruling that banned multiple organizations and put political sanctions on individuals linked to Navalny.

"The organizations...were openly calling for unrest and were obviously involved in something that was illegal," he said. He argued that the groups had been urging underage individuals to get involved in political unrest.

Biden said he wanted to make "the red lines" clear

Wednesday's meeting between the two nuclear powers and age-old rivals.
Wednesday's meeting between the two nuclear powers and age-old rivals.  © IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

Ahead of Biden's meeting with Putin, the Kremlin and the White House both scaled back expectations.

Meanwhile, Biden had vowed to "make it clear what the red lines are" on areas of disagreement.

The summit between the two nuclear powers and age-old rivals follows Biden's first trip abroad as president to Europe, during which he has been consulting with allies at the Group of Seven (G7), NATO, and the European Union.

There were cooler comments, too. Putin said he had no illusions about his relationship with the US, according to TASS news agency.

Biden told the press, "I'm not saying all of a sudden it's going to work."

Looking further ahead, Biden said it would be clear six months down the line exactly how much progress had been made on particular issues.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he added.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

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