Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin meet for first time to dial back tensions

The two men greeted each other after standing with their host, Swiss President Guy Parmelin, in Geneva | Photo: Reuters
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin concluded their first summit in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday after about 2.5 hours of meetings, seeking to dial back tensions between the two former Cold War adversaries that have reached the highest level in years.

The summit was substantially shorter than aides had predicted. US officials said Tuesday they expected the meetings could stretch four hours or more. At the time of this story going to the press, the two leaders were expected to soon hold separate news conferences, beginning with Putin. Biden was seen giving a thumbs up to reporters as he left the final meeting.

Putin shortly announced that the US and Russia will return their ambassadors to their posts in Moscow and Washington. “We agreed that they would return to their service,” Putin said at a news conference after the meetings concluded, through a translator. “As for the timeline, tomorrow or the day after, this is pure technicality. We agreed that Russian MFA and State Department will start consultation,” he added.

Both Russian and US officials kept expectations low for the outcome, with the leaders looking to agree on a new round of arms-control negotiations and restoring diplomatic links severed in recent years. “I think it’s always better to meet face to face, try to determine where we have mutual interest, cooperate, and where we don’t, establish a predictable and rational” path forward, Biden told Putin. “Two great powers,” the US president added.

Putin thanked Biden for taking the initiative to propose the meeting. “I know you’ve had a long trip, a lot of work. Nonetheless, a lot of questions have accumulated in Russian-American relations that require discussion at the highest level and I hope our meeting will be productive,” he said.

Biden and Putin began speaking before US reporters had entered a historic library where they began their meeting at the Villa La Grange in Geneva, and both men smiled as journalists scuffled with one another and with Putin’s security as they tried to cover the remarks. The scrum drowned out some of the leaders’ comments.

Legendary for keeping people waiting, Putin arrived for Wednesday’s talks on schedule. The first session of their summit, in which Biden and Putin met with only their top diplomats, Sergei Lavrov and Antony Blinken, and translators, concluded after about 93 minutes, according to a White House official.

After a break, a larger meeting with more staff wrapped up after about 65 minutes, according to the White House. Besides Putin and Biden, participants in the second meeting included Lavrov, Blinken, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Biden planned to raise with Putin the plight of two former US Marines who are in jail in Moscow, according to people familiar with the discussions. Paul Whelan was convicted on espionage charges last year and Trevor Reed was found guilty of assaulting two police officers in 2019.

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