Biden Strikes Realistic Tone After Meeting With
June 17, 2021
President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have ended their
summit in Geneva, with Biden describing it as “good” and “positive.”
But he further described the summit in a realistic tone, saying the next several
months would serve as a "test" of whether relations between the two countries
“I am not sitting here saying because the president and I agreed that we would
do these things that all of a sudden it's going to work,” Biden said during the
press conference after his more than three-hour meeting with Putin. “I'm not
“What I am saying is, I think there's a genuine prospect to significantly
improve the relations between our two countries, without us giving up a single,
solitary thing based on principle and our values," Biden said.
In his press conference after the summit, Putin, speaking through an
interpreter, also described the meeting as “constructive.” He said there were
“no hostilities,” calling the U.S. leader a “constructive person, well-balanced
and experienced, a seasoned politician."
After the summit, both the White House and the Kremlin released identical
statements, noting that “even in periods of tension,” both countries have
demonstrated they are able to make progress on “shared goals of ensuring
predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and
the threat of nuclear war.”
Both governments said they will begin consultations on strategic stability to
manage relations. In his press conference, Putin noted that as nuclear powers,
the U.S. and Russia have a special responsibility to maintain relations.
"The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to
nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot
be won and must never be fought," the White House and Kremlin statements said.
"Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together
on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that
will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the
groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” the statement
While both leaders noted the talks were productive, it is clear divisions
Biden said there were disagreements, but "it was not done in a hyperbolic
atmosphere," adding that no threats were made during the meeting.
Those disputes include the issue of Ukraine, cyberattacks and human rights.
"I pointed out to him we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it. He
doesn't know exactly what it is, but it's significant,” Biden said, noting that
he told Putin that critical U.S. infrastructure should be “off limits” to
Biden appeared to suggest that should Moscow launch such an attack, the U.S. may
retaliate “in a cyber way.”
“I looked at him, I said, ‘Well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the
pipelines from your oil fields?’” Biden said.
Putin denies U.S. accusations of election meddling and cyberattacks, including
ransomware attacks on American businesses that U.S. intelligence agencies
conclude may be coming from within Russian territories.
Biden also said he “made it clear” to Putin the U.S. will continue to raise
human rights issues.
"Human rights is going to always be on the table," Biden said. He said he
brought up issues like the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny
and Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia because "that's who
Putin remained firm about his position on Navalny. “This man knew that he was
breaking the law of Russia. He has been twice convicted,” Putin said, keeping
his habit of not saying the opposition activist’s name aloud.
Repeating Russia's official claim, Putin said Navalny violated bail conditions
last year by going abroad while unconscious after an apparent Novichok poisoning
and by failing to check in with Russian officials as required.
Biden underscored a demand for press freedom. “I also raised the ability of
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press
and freedom of speech,” Biden said referring to the U.S.-funded media that were
branded as “foreign agents” by the Russian government and accused of violating
rules that could be punished with heavy fines, even imprisonment.
A recent incident in which a commercial airline was forced to land in Minsk, so
that Belarusian authorities could arrest a prominent dissident, also was
discussed, Biden said, adding that Putin “didn't disagree with what happened.”
“He just said it's a perspective of what you do about it,” Biden said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko relies heavily on Putin for support.
Ukraine appears to be another issue where the two leaders disagreed.
Biden said he communicated to Putin “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty
and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“We agreed to pursue diplomacy, related to the Minsk Agreement,” he said,
referring to the 2014 deal to halt the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Prior to the summit, Ukrainian officials played down the prospect of ending the
war in the eastern part of the country, which has been simmering for seven years
between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army.
“We have made it very clear to our partners that no agreement on Ukraine reached
without Ukraine will be recognized by us,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro
On the issue of Ukraine’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
Putin gave a terse assessment. “I don’t think there is anything to discuss
there,” he said.
The Kremlin has stated that Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a “red line” for
Russia. Asked earlier this week about whether Ukraine should join NATO, Biden
said, "It depends on whether they meet the criteria,” including cleaning up
The administration announced earlier this month that Biden will host Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the White House sometime this summer. Biden has
not invited Putin to Washington.
No Cold War
Biden emphasized the “last thing” Putin wants now is a Cold War. He said that
while the summit’s end is not a “Kumbaya moment,” it's in neither country’s
interest to be in a “new Cold War” situation.
went on to say he thinks Putin understands this, though it doesn't mean Putin is
"willing to lay down his arms.” Biden assessed the Russian leader is still
concerned that the U.S. aims to "take him down.”
Putin said in a bid to lower tensions, he and Biden agreed to return their
ambassadors to their posts in the future. U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan and
Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov left their posts earlier this year amid
worsening U.S.-Russia relations. They both participated in expanded bilateral
discussions at the summit.
According to a White House official, the summit ended at 5:05 CEST Wednesday
when the expanded bilateral between the two delegations concluded. That meeting
on the American side included five high-level officials in addition to Biden and
Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The session was concluded after one expanded
bilateral meeting, according to the official, not two as was previously