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World With US-Russia relations at low point, Biden, Putin each bring a wariness to Geneva summit

10:31  15 june  2021
10:31  15 june  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

Biden likely to come out of Putin summit empty-handed and risks handing the Kremlin a victory, former US officials warn

  Biden likely to come out of Putin summit empty-handed and risks handing the Kremlin a victory, former US officials warn "If there aren't clear deliverables criticism will grow that this high-level meeting ultimately benefited the Kremlin," a former US official said.Relations between the US and Russia have been deteriorating for years, and Washington has struggled to come up with an effective response to Putin's increasingly aggressive behavior both at home and abroad. Experts warn that Putin has no intention of using the meeting to improve relations, and question what Biden has to gain via the summit.

President Joe Biden said Sunday he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that relations between the US and Russia are at a " low point ," days before the two leaders are scheduled to hold a highly anticipated summit in Geneva .

The first US - Russia summit of the Biden presidency will take place in Geneva , Switzerland, on 16 June. That comes at the tail end of Biden 's already scheduled trip to the United Kingdom for the G7 summit and Brussels for a meeting of Nato leaders, giving the president plenty of time to hear from US allies before sitting down with Putin . White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in a statement announcing the meeting, said the summit would cover a "full range of pressing issues" as the US seeks to "restore predictability and stability" to its Russian relations .

Vladimir Putin will always have Helsinki.

Three years ago this July, former President Donald Trump stood side by side with the Russian autocrat at a press conference in Finland's capital and blithely dismissed assessments from his own intelligence agencies, defense officials and American lawmakers about Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a flag: Then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on March 10, 2011. © Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP Then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on March 10, 2011.

"President Putin says it's not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be," Trump said on July 16, 2018, echoing Putin's denials after the two men had been behind closed doors for nearly two hours.

Putin talks hacking, Navalny and Capitol riot in NBC interview ahead of Biden summit

  Putin talks hacking, Navalny and Capitol riot in NBC interview ahead of Biden summit In an exclusive interview, Putin again denied that Russian hackers or the government itself were behind cyberattacks in the U.S. were "farcical," and he challenged NBC News, and by implication the U.S. government, to produce proof that Russians were involved."We have been accused of all kinds of things," Putin said. "Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.

President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin is correct that relations between their countries are at a nadir, suggesting that will be one of the few points of agreement when they meet Wednesday for their first summit . “He’s right, it’s a low point ,” Biden said Sunday in a news conference at to conclude his participation at the Blinken Says Biden - Putin Meeting Won’t Be ‘Light-Switch’ Moment. Biden and Putin are set to meet in Geneva on Wednesday as tensions between the two nations simmer over issues ranging from human rights to Russia ’s military presence in the Arctic.

"President Biden will meet with President Putin in Geneva , Switzerland on June 16, 2021. The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U . S .- Russia relationship ," the White House said in a statement. In its own statement, the Kremlin said, "We intend to discuss the state and prospects of further development of Russian-American relations , problems of strategic stability, as well as topical issues on the international agenda, including interaction in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the settlement of regional conflicts."

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When President Joe Biden meets with Putin on Wednesday for a one-day summit in Geneva, Switzerland, the West's favorite geopolitical bogeyman is not likely to get the easy pass he got from Trump, according to U.S. and Russian foreign affairs experts.

Former President Donald Trump tosses a soccer ball to his wife First lady Melania Trump after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented it to him during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. © Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Former President Donald Trump tosses a soccer ball to his wife First lady Melania Trump after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented it to him during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018.

Geneva: Joe Biden to hold solo news conference after meeting with Vladimir Putin

"I don't expect (the) kind of bromance that Trump aspired to," said Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. "I have modest expectations about what this immediate meeting can deliver in practical terms."

Biden-Putin summit live updates: 'I'm always ready,' Biden says

  Biden-Putin summit live updates: 'I'm always ready,' Biden says President Joe Biden will meet face-to-face with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Switzerland on Wednesday amid rising tensions between the two countries.The two men will face off inside an 18th-century Swiss villa in Geneva, situated alongside a lake in the middle of the Parc de la Grange. The fifth American president to sit down with Putin, Biden has spoken with him and met him before, in 2016.

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was correct to say that relations between their two nations were at their lowest point in years. "Let me make it clear I think he's right it's a low point , and it depends on how he responds to acting consistent with international norms, which in many cases he has not," Biden told reporters at the conclusion of a Group of Seven leaders' summit in Britain. Biden said he had told Putin before being elected he would look at whether the Russian leader had been involved in trying to interfere with the US election.

Putin , left, and the US president, right, are due to meet, but ‘ Biden -bashing’ is in high gear on Russian TV. In an NBC News interview broadcast on Monday, Putin said he would consider establishing such a dialogue, depending on how Wednesday’s summit went. In the real world, the last week has given little inkling of a coming breakthrough. A Russian court’s decision on Thursday evening to outlaw Alexei Navalny’s organisation as “extremist” will reassert the issue of human rights in Russia on the summit ’s agenda.

The long list of U.S. grievances with Russia

Biden has made no secret of his disdain for Putin, who is Russia's longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin. Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953. Putin has been in office as prime minister or president for a period spanning two decades.

In March, Biden provided a flavor of his view of Putin when he assented to an interviewer's description of Russia's leader as a "killer" and then further pledged to make Russia, and Putin in particular, "pay" for Moscow's alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election.

A declassified U.S. intelligence report released this spring concluded Putin authorized the Russian state and its proxies to conduct an extensive operation aimed at "denigrating" Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party.

Yet the list of U.S. grievances with Russia is long, and goes way beyond election meddling — although Moscow has consistently denied any wrongdoing:

Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit

  Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit GENEVA (AP) — President Joe Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin sit down Wednesday for their highly anticipated summit in the Swiss capital, a moment of high-stakes diplomacy at a time when both leaders agree that U.S.-Russian relations are at an all-time low. For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia's foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections. Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S.

Putin : US - Russia relationship at ‘its lowest point ’ in years. The Kremlin has irked and aggravated the United States with, according to Washington, a threat to invade Ukraine, an arms buildup, hacker attacks and election meddling. On Wednesday, Putin and Biden are meeting again in Geneva for their first summit amid frayed ties, the West’s growing pressure on Moscow and Russia’s widening crackdown on domestic dissent.

Biden and Putin will hold a bilateral summit in Geneva , the Kremlin and White House both confirmed, on Tuesday. The city hosts many international organizations and often offers a third-party platform for various meetings. While it won’t be the first time the politicians will meet in person, all their previous one-on-ones happened before Biden was elected to the White House. The two national leaders have a wide array of difficult topics to discuss, considering that the US and Russia are currently at the lowest point in their relations in decades.

  • In May, Biden expelled Russian diplomats and announced new sanctions on Moscow in retaliation for the massive SolarWinds hacking operation that targeted multiple U.S. federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, State and Energy.
  • The FBI believes the main culprit of a ransomware attack called DarkSide that in early May shut down Colonial Pipeline, the United States' largest fuel pipeline, is a Russian cybercrime network that operates by the same name.
  • U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia is the main suspect in connection with a group of U.S. diplomats and government employees suffering from "Havana Syndrome," a mysterious and hard-to-treat neurological condition whose symptoms include headaches, tinnitus and balance issues.
  • Washington considers Russia's work on a gas pipeline (Nord Stream 2) that would run from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea a threat to European energy security.
  • Biden is displeased with Putin's increasingly assertive crackdown on Russia's political opposition, including the jailing of democracy activists such as Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned in Russia in February for breaking parole conditions. Navalny was not able to meet those conditions because he was in Germany receiving treatment  after being poisoned with a Russian-made military grade nerve agent.
  • Putin's pledge to support neighboring Belarus financially and militarily amid President Alexander Lukashenko's own human rights transgressions has attracted Washington's ire. Lukashenko, routinely referred to as Europe's last dictator, has used violence to suppress largely peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations. Lukashenko is widely suspected of ordering the diversion of a commercial airline flight to facilitate the arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist.
  • Russia's ongoing territorial aggressions on the edge of Europe in Ukraine have also not been forgotten by Washington, nor have unverified reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to kill American troops. (While the  bounty allegation has not been confirmed, some analysts have pointed out that during the Reagan administration, the U.S. helped pre-Taliban resistance fighters at war with Russia, sending them deadly anti-aircraft missiles and other assistance.)
  • Moscow has remained a steadfast ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, lending his regime vital economic and military support that has helped prop up Syria's longtime dictator and given him license to wage a years-long civil war that's killed at least 500,000 people and displaced several million more.

What Biden and Putin hope to gain

"The one question that will hover over the summit is: Can Biden and Putin leave Geneva with having taken some poison out of the relationship," said Charles Kupchan, who coordinated the White House's European policy during the Obama administration.

Images of Biden's meeting with Putin show a cool but cordial dynamic as the president seeks a reset after Trump

  Images of Biden's meeting with Putin show a cool but cordial dynamic as the president seeks a reset after Trump Trump's behavior toward Putin repeatedly sparked criticism in Washington and fueled suspicions about the president's loyalties.Biden's approach to relations with Putin has marked a significant shift in the US stance toward Russia in comparison to the past four years under former President Donald Trump.

Before leaving the U.K. on Sunday, where he appeared at a G-7 summit with the leaders of other rich countries, Biden said: "We’re not looking for conflict. We're looking to resolve those actions which we think are inconsistent with international norms."

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For Putin, the fact he snagged a summit with Biden at all may represent a diplomatic victory of sorts, according to Arkady Dubnov, a Russian political analyst.

Dubnov said that while Biden is going to Geneva to press Putin on myriad perceived Russian transgressions, the Russian leader's main goal in attending is to try to project confidence as part of efforts to resurrect Russia's status as a superpower.

Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie: One Russia expert says Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to highlight America’s political polarization, and make Biden and the U.S. look incompetent or dysfunctional at Wednesday's summit with President Joe Biden in Geneva. © Mikhail Metzel, AP One Russia expert says Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to highlight America’s political polarization, and make Biden and the U.S. look incompetent or dysfunctional at Wednesday's summit with President Joe Biden in Geneva.

Three decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the former bloc's biggest country is a shadow of the military power and global influencer it once was.

But that hasn't stopped Moscow from being a troublemaker, critics say.

"Russia is quite invested in having a confrontational friction-filled, rather than friction-free, relationship with the United States," said Fiona Hill, a former national security adviser to Trump. Hill said earlier this year she considered "faking" a medical emergency to bring Trump's notorious 2018 news conference in Helsinki with Putin to an end.

Biden-Putin summit: Key takeaways from their high-stakes meeting

  Biden-Putin summit: Key takeaways from their high-stakes meeting Here are key takeaways from the high-stakes summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both men called their meeting positive, but while Biden said he raised serious concerns and warned of consequences, he did not claim he got Putin to commit to changing his behavior and the Russian leader accepted no responsibility for cyberattacks on the U.S. or for anything else.

Putin will inevitably try to highlight America’s political polarization and make Biden and the U.S. look incompetent or dysfunctional, Hill said during a  Thursday briefing held by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank where she is now a senior fellow.

Dubnov said he expects Putin to seek guarantees from Biden that the U.S. won't support attempts by former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. While they are independent countries, the Kremlin still views them as integral components of Russia's sphere of influence and necessary to keeping a dividing line with Europe. In return for any concessions from Biden, according to Dubnov, Putin could offer to let Navalny leave Russia and force Lukashenko to give up power in Belarus.

'Putin is turning his main threat into a martyr': Will attack on Navalny, journalists and 5,700 detained Russians backfire?

Still, Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian military intelligence officer who now directs the Carnegie Moscow Center, a foreign affairs think tank in Russia's capital, said expectations for the meeting are "uniquely bad" and that "Putin will not apologize. He will not admit to being behind alleged hacking attacks or things of that kind."

Trenin added that in some respects the U.S.-Russia relationship is much worse now than it was during the Cold War. He said, for example, there is simply "no willingness" by the U.S. to treat Russia as an equal, as there largely was when the U.S. and its allies and the then-Soviet Union and its satellite states squared off on a decades-long struggle for supremacy mostly across Europe and parts of Asia.

Opinion: A big loss for Putin

  Opinion: A big loss for Putin Frida Ghitis writes that by meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and letting him showcase his signature evasive style, US President Joe Biden was able to use the Russian president as a prop -- a show-and-tell for his campaign to demonstrate that authoritarianism is a malign force. Yes, the two leaders reached some agreements, such as allowing withdrawn ambassadors to return to their assigned capitals and committing to launching a "strategic dialogue" to prevent an accidental war. They will also seek progress on nuclear arms control, possible prisoner releases and other areas.

Jill Biden, Joe Biden are posing for a picture: President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House on June 9, 2021, for their first international trip. On June 16, Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. © Evan Vucci, AP President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House on June 9, 2021, for their first international trip. On June 16, Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden has largely reinforced that point by spending his week in Europe — first at the G-7 meeting in Cornwall, England, and then at a NATO leaders' summit in Brussels, Belgium — laying out a tough line on a geopolitical adversary he doesn't trust, or like.

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"There’s no guarantee you can change a person’s behavior," Biden said of Putin. "Autocrats have enormous power, and they don’t have to answer to the public."

And Putin himself gave an indication of the obfuscatory tone he's likely to adopt when challenged by Biden to account for Russia's alleged behavior, saying in an NBC News interview: "We have been accused of all kinds of things. Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations."

Putin said in the interview there was no guarantee Navalny, the Kremlin critic who survived being poisoned with a nerve agent, would get out of prison alive.

"He will not be treated any worse than anybody else," he said.

Putin: I won't guarantee opposition leader Alexei Navalny will leave prison alive

Potential for productive Geneva summit

Yet the meeting in Switzerland may be more than an exercise in confrontation. Or a chance for Biden to point a sharp finger at Putin while he characteristically shrugs it off.

Paul Poast, an expert on international relations at the University of Chicago, said the two men could jump-start a process that eventually leads to a more stable, predictable relationship, particularly if they agree to restore ground-level diplomatic contacts.

Europe's Top Diplomat Says Relations with Russia at 'Lowest Level' as Biden and Putin Meet

  Europe's Top Diplomat Says Relations with Russia at 'Lowest Level' as Biden and Putin Meet Foreign policy chief of the EU, Josep Borrell said relations with Russia are at the "lowest level" and are likely to get worse. Russia still plays a big role in trade with the EU and further debates will be held on how to deal with it.Borrell warned that ties with Russia are probably going to get worse and that member countries of the EU should not let Moscow divide them.

"They don't need Russia to be a friend," he said of the Biden White House. "This is not going to be a reset. … They just don't want Russia to be disruptive."

In one sign of potential room for a constructive discussion, on Sunday both Biden and Putin appeared to suggest they were open to discussing extraditing cybercriminals. It's unclear whether this possible openness would extend to a broader prisoner swap for Americans such as Paul Whelan, a former Marine detained in Russia on spying allegations despite a lack of concrete evidence from Russian authorities.

Room for a thaw in the U.S.-Russia relationship?: Biden sees 'potential' progress in Putin's openness to extraditing cybercriminals

And Trenin noted the summit could present an opportunity to start fresh discussions on extending the New START treaty that expires in 2026. The nuclear arms control treaty was renewed this year but Russia has since accused Washington of exceeding the number of agreed launchers and bombers permitted by the pact. The U.S. says it is in full compliance with the treaty and that these launchers and heavy bombers are incapable of employing nuclear weapons and thus put them outside the treaty.

"The summit will also allow Biden and Putin to exchange their 'red lines,'" Trenin said, referring to a figurative point of no return on policy differences.

"They don't have to abide by them but it's useful to know what these 'red lines' are," he added, before expressing a note of concern.

"We're talking about a relationship that is just one step away from a collision in the very physical sense of the word. A collision potentially leading to military conflict, and even a nuclear war. We are almost at the end of the road in the (U.S.-Russia) relationship."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: With US-Russia relations at low point, Biden, Putin each bring a wariness to Geneva summit

Europe's Top Diplomat Says Relations with Russia at 'Lowest Level' as Biden and Putin Meet .
Foreign policy chief of the EU, Josep Borrell said relations with Russia are at the "lowest level" and are likely to get worse. Russia still plays a big role in trade with the EU and further debates will be held on how to deal with it.Borrell warned that ties with Russia are probably going to get worse and that member countries of the EU should not let Moscow divide them.

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