Wednesday’s highly anticipated meeting in Geneva comes as ties between Washington and Moscow are at post-Cold-War lows.
On the eve of the summit between United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, senior White House officials previewed their expectations, declaring they are seeking three things out of the meeting.
Their wish list is broad and echoes what Biden and his administration have telegraphed in the days and weeks leading up to Wednesday’s meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. In fact, a senior administration official admitted: “We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting.”
Here is what they are expecting, the official told reporters on Tuesday:
Last week, Biden warned of “robust and meaningful consequences” if Russia engages in “harmful activities”.
For his part, Putin, in an interview on Friday with US broadcaster NBC, said relations between the US and Russia are at a nadir.
“We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” he said.
One of the “Russian activities that run counter” to “America’s vital national interests” that is likely to be brought up is the so-called SolarWinds cyberattacks. And “on the cyber side, obviously, ransomware will be a significant topic of conversation tomorrow”, a senior administration official said.
Other potential topics Biden is likely to bring up include the alleged Russian meddling in the past two US presidential elections, the Russian troop buildup on the border of Ukraine and its continued occupation of Crimea, the militarisation of the Arctic, and the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
China figures to be part of the discussion as well, according to a senior administration official.
“I think, ultimately, we are going to need to have a sustained conversation with China on arms control-related issues. But the President has made clear that, at the outset, a bilateral discussion between the two biggest nuclear powers in the world is the way to start,” the official said.
The meeting at the 18th-century Villa La Grange in Geneva is expected to run four to five hours and will not involve a meal or “breaking of bread”, a senior administration official said, just meetings: one with the two presidents and their foreign ministers – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – and another with the presidents “plus five” on each side. The “plus five” list has yet to be disclosed.
Putin will arrive first and then the two presidents will meet with their Swiss counterpart, Guy Parmelin, before beginning their meetings.
Following the summit, Putin will hold a solo news conference to be followed by a separate solo news conference by Biden.