US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a long-anticipated summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, the White House and the Kremlin announced on Tuesday, marking the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden became president in January.
“The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the US-Russia relationship,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
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Psaki later told reporters that Biden also plans to discuss Belarus’ forced landing of a commercial airliner and the subsequent arrest of an opposition activist this week, though she added “we don’t have a belief” that Russia played a role in that incident.
The Kremlin said in a statement that the two leaders would discuss bilateral ties, problems related to strategic nuclear stability, and other issues including cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and regional conflicts.
Biden has previously said he wants Putin to stop trying to influence US elections, stop cyberattacks on US networks emanating from Russia, stop threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty and release jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.
Earlier this month, the Reuters news agency reported that both countries are lowering expectations for big breakthroughs at the superpower summit, with neither in a mood to make concessions on their bitter disagreements.
The White House has also been wary of describing Biden as seeking a “reset” in relations with Putin and US officials see a face-to-face meeting as an opportunity to rebalance the relationship away from what they see as former President Donald Trump’s fawning overtures to Putin.
Russian officials told Reuters they see the summit as an opportunity to hear from Biden directly after what a source close to the Russian government said were mixed messages from the new US administration.
The two leaders’ scheduled meeting is being tacked on to the end of Biden’s first international trip as president next month when he visits Britain for a meeting of Group of Seven leaders and Brussels for the NATO summit.
Shifting US approach towards Russia
The White House has repeatedly said it is seeking a “stable and predictable” relationship with the Russians, while also calling out Putin on allegations that the Russians interfered in last year’s US presidential election and that the Kremlin was behind a hacking campaign – commonly referred to as the SolarWinds breach – in which Russian hackers infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine US agencies.
The Biden administration has also criticised Russia for the arrest and jailing of opposition leader Navalny and publicly acknowledged that it has low to moderate confidence that Russian agents were offering bounties to the Taliban to attack US troops in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration announced sanctions in March against several mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen businesses and other entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on Navalny in August 2020 and his subsequent jailing. Navalny returned to Russia days before Biden’s January 20 inauguration and was quickly arrested.
Last month, the administration announced it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats and sanctioning dozens of Russian companies and individuals in response to the SolarWinds hack and election interference allegations.
But even as Biden moved forward with the latest round of sanctions, he acknowledged that he held back on taking tougher action – an attempt to send the message to Putin that he still held hope that the US and Russia could come to an understanding for the rules of the game in their adversarial relationship.
Weeks into his presidency, Biden said in an address before State Department employees that he told Putin in their first call that he would be taking a radically different approach to Russia than Trump.
“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions – interfering with our election, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens – are over,” said Biden.
In March, Biden in an ABC News interview responded affirmatively when asked by interviewer George Stephanopoulos whether he thought Putin was “a killer“.
Putin responded, “I remember, in my childhood, when we argued in the courtyard, we used to say, ‘It takes one to know one’. And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke.
“We always see our own traits in other people and think they are like how we really are. And, as a result, we assess [a person’s] activities and give assessments.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Biden’s comment demonstrated he “definitely does not want to improve relations” with Russia and that relations between the countries were “very bad”.