Biden and Putin bring positions closer but reproaches continue

The two Presidents have agreed on the return of the ambassadors to Washington and Moscow

3 min
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to Geneva.

Moscow / SabadellMinimal agreements, crossed reproaches but a timid hope on the improvement of the relations between the United States and Russia. This is the balance of the summit that the Presidents of the two countries, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, have held this Wednesday in Geneva, in an attempt to redirect relations that are at their worst moment since the end of the Cold War. And, to say the least, both agreed that the meeting was positive. Putin described it as "constructive" and "pragmatic" and said he saw "a spark of hope" for the recovery of mutual trust. Biden specified that the issue was not trust but the defense of "their own interests", but affirmed that there is "a genuine perspective on a significant improvement" in relations.

Few agreements were expected from a meeting that was preceded by economic sanctions, expulsions of diplomats, big words (Biden had even called Putin a "murderer") and countless points of friction, from respect for human rights in Russia to the situation in Ukraine or the cyber-attacks against American interests that Washington attributes to the Kremlin. The fact that two separate press conferences had been announced had also helped to lower expectations about possible understandings.

And so it was: at the end of the meeting (which lasted less than the four hours that had been planned), the two leaders issued a brief joint communiqué in which they expressed a single commitment: to initiate "a dialogue on strategic stability" that would "lay the foundations for future arms control and risk reduction measures". "We reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and does not have to be fought", says the document, which notes that the two Presidents have demonstrated that "even in periods of tension" they are able to move toward their "shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflict and the threat of nuclear war".

In addition to this, Putin explained that he and Biden had reached an agreement on the return of their respective ambassadors to Washington and Moscow, months after they had left their posts amid the serious diplomatic crisis facing the two countries. It has also been agreed that talks on cybersecurity should begin, despite the fact that on this issue the two leaders have shown strong disagreements. Biden explained that he had given Putin a list of 16 "critical" sectors that would have to be "kept out" of this type of action and warned that he would respond in the event of new cyber attacks. For his part, the Russian leader has pointed out that the United States is the country of origin of most of the cyberattacks suffered by Russia.

"Devastating consequences"

Biden has explained that one of the central themes of the summit had been the defense of human rights, an issue that, he has said, is part of the "DNA" of the United States and that, therefore, it was obligatory to put on the table. In this sense, the discrepancy between the two leaders on the case of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who was poisoned (allegedly by order of the Kremlin) and is currently serving a prison sentence, was significant. Putin has argued that the opponent (who has not pronounced his name, as usual) "knew that he was breaking the law" and that if he returned to Russia he would be arrested, and still decided to do so. In this sense, Putin has not pledged to ensure his safety while he is in prison, and Biden has warned that if Navalny dies while serving his sentence the consequences will be "devastating" for Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a meeting at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland.

When asked about the persecution of opposition movements, the Russian President compared it to the arrest and prosecution of the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, according to him "with political demands". He has also argued that the only thing he intends to do with these measures is to prevent "disorder and violations of the law" from happening in Russia like those that, according to him, were experienced in the United States as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. For Biden, the comparison is "ridiculous".

"The United States is back"

The meeting with Putin has put an end to Joe Biden's tour of Europe, who at the press conference on Wednesday has made a positive balance. "I think the United States has shown that it is back with its allies, and now we have established a clear basis for how we want to approach the relationship with Russia", said the US President. According to him, "the last thing Putin wants now is a cold war", since the growing international weight of China is leaving Russia in a "very complicated" position. "They desperately want to remain a great power", said Biden, adding that we will have to wait "three to six months" to begin to evaluate the progress that may have come out of the meeting with Putin.