On June 16, Villa La Grange in Geneva hosted a meeting between Presidents of Russia and the United States Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. It was the two leaders' first face-to-face meeting since Biden became head of state. The summit was initiated by the American side. President Biden invited his Russian counterpart to meet on April 13, but the Kremlin furnished an answer in late May only. The reason is not hard to plumb – US recent policy towards Russia has been clearly aggressive and abounding in sanctions, in which regard Moscow has expressed doubts about the meeting's rationale.
However, Vladimir Putin had the last word, and he finally said "yes" to the summit. According to his Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President chose to meet with Biden because of the poor relations between the two. "A critical level of this relationship that demands a summit between our two countries because this is the only way <...> to prevent further degradation of our dialogue," Peskov said.
The world's interest in the Russia-US summit was high. Suffice it to say that 500 journalists were accredited to cover it (although the number of applications submitted exceeded 1,600). Moreover, some American media representatives failed to get inside over the stampede they caused at the entrance to Villa La Grange for an official photo session and blamed the Russian side for this. Another notable detail: in Britain, which can hardly be suspected of having a fellow-feeling towards Russia, the local Sky News TV channel interrupted the broadcast of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's traditional weekly question-and-answer session in parliament to show live footage of President Putin's arrival at Villa La Grange.
The meeting between Putin and Biden lasted some four hours. Following the meeting, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden held separate press briefings. According to the New York Times, the Kremlin was ready for a joint press conference, but the White House opted out of it, because after the previous Russian-American summit of 2018 in Helsinki, Putin looked more confident than ex-US leader Donald Trump. Biden explained the refusal saying it was not a contest.
During his press conference, Vladimir Putin noted that the talks with Joe Biden went off well, there was "no hostility at all", the meeting was a "principled one" and both demonstrated willingness to bring their positions closer together. "everyone is familiar with the topics of discussion in general: strategic stability, cyber security, regional conflicts, and trade relations. We also covered cooperation in the Arctic. This is pretty much what we discussed," Putin added, saying that the issue of Ukraine was also touched upon.
As Putin said, he and Biden agreed that in the coming days, the Russian and US ambassadors Anatoly Antonov and John Sullivan will get back to work at their permanent duty stations. Russia and the United States intend to start consultations on cyber security, the exchange of prisoners, arms control, and other issues of diplomatic cooperation.
Answering a question about cyber attacks that allegedly originate from Russia, Putin voiced data that he believes to be unknown to the general public. "American sources have said that most cyber attacks in the world come from US cyberspace. Canada is second. It is followed by two Latin American countries and then the United Kingdom. As you can see, Russia is not on the list of these countries from whose cyberspace the most cyber attacks originate." As the Russian leader noted, he and Biden agreed to start consultations on cyber security.
According to President Putin, Russia and the United States can and should cooperate in the Arctic, and the summit participants did discuss the issue in detail in a broad format. At the same time, he stressed that statements by the American side about the region's militarization are wholly without merit.
Speaking about Ukraine, Putin pointed to Russia's having a single obligation of complying with the Minsk agreements. He also recalled that in November 2020, Kiev presented its plans to resolve the Donbass issue, which, according to Putin, fell a long way short of the Minsk agreements. As the Russian leader said, Joe Biden agreed that the situation in the south-east of Ukraine should be resolved within the Minsk agreements' scope.
Following the summit, a joint statement on strategic stability issues was released. "Russia and the United States have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war," the statement reads. Putin and Biden also reaffirmed their commitment to the principle that there can be no winners in a nuclear war.
As anticipated, the Geneva meeting yielded no significant shift in the two parties' positions on many issues, but it did achieve the key goal of paving the way for leading bilateral relations out of a deadlock. As Vladimir Putin noted, there were "flashes of trust" between him and his American counterpart. However, the president stressed that the meeting brought no "new illusions": "I did not have any old illusions <...> There are no illusions, nor can there be any."