What are Biden and Putin’s goals at summit?

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What Are Biden And Putin’s Goals At Summit?
A police officer sits in front of the Villa la Grange in Geneva ahead of the summit, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Jonathan Lemire and Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press

As US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin come together at the summit table on Wednesday, they bring their own agendas and non-negotiable red lines.

The highly anticipated summit in the Swiss city of Geneva is the first time Mr Biden has met Mr Putin since taking office, and is a moment of high-stakes diplomacy at a time when both leaders agree that US/Russian relations are at an all-time low.

While neither side holds out much hope for meaningful areas of agreement, each leader brings his own goals to the summit table.


US President Joe Biden, left, meets Swiss President Guy Parmelin ahead of the summit (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP)

So what is each president hoping to achieve in Switzerland?

Mr Biden and his aides have made clear that he will not follow in the footsteps of his recent predecessors by aiming to radically alter the United States’ ties to Russia. Instead, the White House is looking for a more modest though vitally important goal: to move towards a more predictable relationship and attempt to rein in Russia’s disruptive behaviour.

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Mr Biden’s first overseas trip was deliberately sequenced so that he will meet with Mr Putin only after spending days meeting with European allies and powerful democracies, including a gathering at Nato, the decades-old alliance formed to serve as a bulwark to Russian aggression.

He hoped to project a sense of unity and renewed co-operation after four years of tumult under former president Donald Trump, who often tried to cosy up to the Russian president.

Mr Biden will push Mr Putin to stop meddling in democratic elections, to ease tensions with Ukraine and to stop giving safe harbour to hackers carrying out cyber and ransomware attacks.

Aides believe that lowering the temperature with Russia will also reinforce the United States’ ties to democracies existing in Moscow’s shadow.


Swiss police block a road in Geneva that will be used by Mr Biden and Mr Putin (Michael Probst/AP)

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden would look for “areas where, in our common interest, we can work together to produce outcomes that are — that work for the United States and for the American people”.

Mr Sullivan said that Mr Biden’s other message would be more stick than carrot: “How do we send a clear message about those harmful activities that we will not tolerate and to which we will respond?”

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There have been brief moments of common ground. Moscow and Washington have shown a shared interest in restarting talks on strategic stability to work out a follow-up deal to the New START, the last remaining US/Russian arms control pact that was extended for five years in January.

Mr Biden will exhort Mr Putin on human rights, including the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, not to support the regime in Belarus that carried out a recent skyjacking and to stop interfering with other nations’ elections.

Cyber will also be a focal point, with the Geneva summit coming just days after Nato expanded its Article 5 mutual defence pact to include cyberattacks.

But the US president acknowledged that there may be no way to keep Mr Putin in check.


Mr Putin’s main goal will be to draw his red lines for the new US administration (Maxim Blinov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Meanwhile, Mr Putin’s main goal will be to draw his red lines for the new US administration and negotiate a tense status quo that would protect Moscow’s vital interests.

The Russian leader does not hope for a new detente to mend the rift caused by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

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Nor does he count on a rollback of the crippling US and EU sanctions that have restricted Moscow’s access to global financial markets and top Western technologies.

Mr Putin’s task now is more modest — to spell out Russia’s top security concerns and try to restore basic channels of communication that would prevent an even more dangerous destabilisation.

The main red line for Moscow is Ukraine’s aspirations to join Nato. Fearing its bid for the alliance membership, Mr Putin responded to the 2014 ousting of Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president by annexing Crimea and throwing Moscow’s weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland, where the seven-year conflict has killed more than 14,000.

When tensions along the line of contact in Ukraine’s east rose earlier this year, Russia quickly increased its troops near Ukraine and warned Kiev’s leaders that it would intervene militarily if they tried to reclaim the rebel-controlled regions by force.

While taking a tough stance on Ukraine, the Russian leader could show a degree of flexibility on other global hotspots.


Flags of the US and Russia being waved on the Mont Blanc bridge in Geneva ahead of the summit (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

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Even though Moscow has been critical of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, it is interested in a settlement that would prevent the country from plunging into chaos following the US troops’ withdrawal later this year, fearing that instability could spill into ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Russia also has been involved in painstaking international talks to help repair a nuclear deal with Iran that was spiked by Mr Trump, and it has expressed a willingness to co-operate with the US in efforts to restart the stalled Middle East peace talks.

And the Kremlin would be interested in working out a deal on Syria, where Moscow’s military campaign helped President Bashar Assad’s government reclaim control over most of the country after a devastating civil war and the US has maintained a limited military presence.

Russia has said it is ready to include its prospective doomsday weapons — such as the Poseidon atomic-powered, nuclear-armed underwater drone and the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile — in the talks, on condition the US brings its missile defence and possible space-based weapons into the equation.

Mr Putin also has emphasised Russia’s readiness to make joint efforts to address climate change and cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

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He called for establishing a dialogue on cybercrime, noting that Moscow could agree to extradite cybercrime suspects to the US if Washington assumed the same obligation.

The White House has strongly downplayed the idea of a cybercriminal prisoner exchange.

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