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'Two great powers': Biden, Putin plunge into hours of talks

Biden, Putin talk for hours

With stern expressions and polite words before the cameras, President Joe Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin plunged into hours of face-to-face talks Wednesday at a lush lakeside Swiss mansion, a highly anticipated summit at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face to face.” Putin, for his part, said he hoped the talks would be “productive.”

The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.

Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”

Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters, including if he feared jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The two leaders did shake hands — Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader — moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.

Biden and Putin are expected to meet for four to five hours of wide-ranging talks.

For months, they have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia's foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.

Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn't been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.

In advance of Wednesday's meeting, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability" in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America's fiercest adversaries.

“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that," Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are."

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no breakthroughs were expected and that “the situation is too difficult in Russian-American relations.” He added that "the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement.”

Arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated.

Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

Putin and his entourage arrived first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next came Biden and his team. Putin flew into Geneva on Wednesday shortly before the scheduled start of the meeting; Biden — who was already in Europe for meetings with allies — arrived the day before.

Biden and Putin first held a relatively intimate meeting joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side had a translator for the session, which lasted about an hour and a half. The meeting then expanded to include five senior aides on each side.

After the meeting concludes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.



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