Biden, Putin hold consultations on nuclear pact update

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and US President Joe Biden agreed at a “constructive” summit on Wednesday to fire their countries’ ambassadors to their posts and start negotiations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries. two countries limiting nuclear weapons.

Putin said there was “no hostility” over the talks, which ended faster than expected.

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and each’s top foreign adviser.

In the end, Putin first attempted to describe the results in a solo press conference, with Biden to follow up with his own session with reporters.

Putin admitted that Biden raised human rights issues with him, including the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin defended Navalny’s prison sentence and deflected repeated questions about the mistreatment of Russian opposition leaders by highlighting domestic unrest in the United States, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the 6 January at the Capitol.

Putin said he and Biden had agreed to start negotiations on nuclear talks to potentially replace the new START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.

Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and its military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Talks resumed in 2017, but made little progress and failed to reach an agreement on the extension of the New START treaty under the Trump administration.

The Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to dismiss their ambassadors to their respective posts. The two countries had withdrawn their main envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations have cooled in recent months.

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow nearly two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Putin said the ambassadors are due to hand over their posts in the coming days.

Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, although he continued to deny U.S. claims that the Russian government was responsible for a recent wave of very serious hacks. publicized against businesses and government agencies in the United States and around the world. .

Biden and Putin plunged into face-to-face talks on Wednesday at a lush lakeside Swiss mansion, a much-anticipated summit at a time when the two leaders say relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

While the two leaders appeared briefly to the media at the start of the meeting, Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always best to meet face to face.” Putin said he hoped the talks would be “productive”.

The meeting in a room filled with books got off to a somewhat awkward start – the two seemed to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief, chaotic photo op in front of a scramble of journalists jostling each other.

Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president “wasn’t answering any questions very clearly, but was nodding his head. of thanks to the press in general “.

The two leaders shook hands – Biden first reached out and smiled at the stoic Russian leader – moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit .

For months, Biden and Putin exchanged bitter rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called on Putin for malicious cyber attacks by Russia-based hackers against US interests, for the imprisonment of the main Russian opposition leader, and for meddling in the US elections.

Putin reacted with misconceptions and denials – pointing the finger at the January 6 insurgency on the United States Capitol for claiming that the United States does not have to lecture on democratic standards and insisting that the Russian government was not involved in any electoral interference or cyberattacks despite American intelligence showing the contrary.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, both sides aim to lower expectations.

Despite this, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia can finally find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal for the president to deal with the person he sees. as one of America’s fiercest adversaries. .

The arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated.

Biden first kicked off the meeting in a phone call in April in which he informed Putin that he would expel several Russian diplomats and impose sanctions against dozens of people and businesses, as part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for meddling in last year’s presidential election and hacking federal agencies.

Poutine and his entourage were the first to arrive at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a large lakeside mansion located in the largest park in Geneva. Next are Biden and his team. Putin visited Geneva on Wednesday shortly before the scheduled start of the meeting; Biden – who was already in Europe for meetings with allies – arrived the day before.

The White House chose not to hold a joint press conference, deciding it did not want to appear to be elevating Putin at a time when the US president urges European allies to pressure Putin to eliminate a myriad of provocations.

Biden sees himself with few foreign policy peers. He traveled the world as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy places like Iraq and Ukraine and weighed the courage of Chinese Xi Jinping when he came to power.

He has said on several occasions that he believes that executing an effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relationships, and he has been successful in building relationships with figures like the Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has described as an “autocrat,” and more conventional Western leaders, including Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

But with Putin, who he says has “no soul,” Biden has long been suspicious. At the same time, he recognizes that Putin, who has remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics during the five US presidents, is not without talent.

“He’s brilliant. He’s tough, ”Biden said. “And I found out that he’s a – as they say … a worthy adversary.”

Biden had prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing documents and consulting with officials across government and outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparedness was not unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters on a arriving in Geneva on Tuesday evening, tried to give the impression that he wasn’t sweating from his big date.

“I’m always ready,” Biden said.

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