It will be the first formal meeting between the leaders of the two nations in three years, a stretch in which U.S.-Russian relations have grown increasingly strained.
Aides say Biden isn’t there to make friends or build trust with a rival he describes as “bright,” “tough” and “a worthy adversary.” There’s much on the U.S. agenda — from recent ransomware attacks perpetrated by Russian cybercriminals and the air piracy in Belarus to arms control and climate change. There are concerns to be voiced about human rights abuses, strongman tactics against opposition leaders and the imprisonment of two Americans.
The last meeting between Putin and former President Donald Trump ended with the now-infamous Helsinki press conference where Trump sided with the Russian leader over U.S. intelligence agencies (which Trump later tried to backtrack).
There won’t be a repeat of that scene this time, not least because Biden and Putin won’t be holding a joint press conference after their meeting. Aides say the meeting is expected to last four to five hours but won’t include a meal, “no breaking of bread,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Biden refused to say what exactly he hopes to get out of the meeting, what he intends to push Putin on or what success would look like, saying it wouldn’t make sense to negotiate in the press.
“I will tell you this: I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses,” Biden said in a press conference Monday. “And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”
Biden met Putin when he was vice president, and he has openly criticized the Russian leader, once calling him a “killer.” Asked about those comments in an NBC interview ahead of the summit, Putin laughed it off. He also downplayed hacking concerns as he has with other cyber intrusions blamed on Russia.
“[Biden’s] view is that this is not a meeting about trust, it’s not a meeting about friendship — it’s a meeting about figuring out where we can find common ground, and also being straightforward and candid about areas where we have concern,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a midair briefing on Air Force One.
Biden told reporters he didn’t want to have a joint press conference with Putin to avoid breathless analysis of body language. That’s likely unavoidable since reporters and photographers are expected to be on hand for an exchange of pleasantries and a handshake at the top of their bilateral meeting.
But the lack of a joint press conference does mean that Biden won’t have to stand next to Putin with an open mic. Instead, in a highly choreographed sequence of events, Putin will hold his press conference first. Then Biden will take questions from reporters. This setup will allow the American president to characterize the meeting and if necessary counter the narrative unspooled by Putin.
Republican critics are already preparing to paint Biden as weak following the meeting.
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