Putin and Biden end summit after less than four hours of talks
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Geneva on Wednesday for their first summit since Biden took office, but their talks lasted less than four hours — far less than Biden's advisers had said they expected.
Both had said they hoped for more stable and predictable relations, even though they were at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
Putin and Biden shook hands on arrival before going inside, but the news that they would not hold a joint news conference meant there was none of the joviality that accompanied a 2018 meeting between Putin and Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump.
Biden flashed a 'thumbs-up' to reporters as he left the lakeside villa where the talks were held and got into his limousine.
“Mr President, I'd like to thank you for your initiative to meet today,” Putin said, sitting next to Biden, adding: “US and Russian relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest-level meeting.”
Biden said they would try to determine areas of co-operation and mutual interest. “It is always better to meet face-to-face.”
Aides had played down hopes for the summit.
“We're not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior US official told reporters.
“I'm not sure that any agreements will be reached,” said Putin's foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov.
The first round of talks — which included Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — lasted almost two hours, officials said.
Talks resumed after a break at about 4pm (1400 GMT), with Moscow's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, who was recalled to Russia in March, among those present. That round ended at 5:05pm (1505 GMT).
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been deteriorating for years, notably with Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and US charges — denied by Moscow — of meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall Antonov to Washington for consultations. The US recalled its ambassador in April.
Peskov said the two presidents would “need to determine how to proceed with the heads of the diplomatic missions”, according to Russian news agencies.
While the issues were difficult, the immediate surroundings of Villa La Grange, an elegant mansion set in a 30-hectare (75-acre) park overlooking Lake Geneva, was at least serene.
Arms control is one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider disagreements.
In February, Russia and the US extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
The senior US official said Biden would also define areas of vital national interest where Russian misconduct would bring a response. Biden signed an executive order in April giving Washington wide latitude to impose sanctions on Moscow.
In a sign of the strain in ties, there was no joint meal. Putin, 68, was due to hold his news conference shortly after the end of talks, and Biden, 78, some 45 minutes later.
Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat, said Putin wanted Russia to be treated with respect, as members of the Soviet Politburo were in the 1960s-1980s, with “a symbolic recognition of Russia's geopolitical parity with the U.S.".
“In exchange, they (Moscow) would be willing to cut back on some of the loony stuff,” Frolov said. This might mean “no poisonings, no physical violence, no arrests/kidnappings of US and Russian nationals; no interference in domestic politics”.
Trump's summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, but Biden and Putin had no solo talks.
Standing beside Putin in Helsinki, Trump refused to blame him for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.
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