Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Joe Biden and said Moscow is ready for further talks with Washington in comments made a day after meeting his US counterpart in Geneva.
“We are ready to continue this dialogue to the same extent as the American side is,” Putin said after he returned home from Wednesday’s meeting, speaking to university graduates by video link.
Putin, 68, had only warm words for Biden, 78, in contrast to Russian state media which has sometimes portrayed the US president as struggling to do his job both physically and mentally.
Putin described the ambience of the talks as friendly and praised Biden’s professionalism. He said the US leader knew what he wanted to achieve and acted “skilfully”.
“I want to say that the image of President Biden that our press and even the American press paints has nothing in common with reality,” Putin told the graduates.
“He was on a long trip, had flown across the Ocean, and had to contend with jet lag and the time difference. When I fly it takes its toll. But he looked cheerful, we spoke face-to-face for two or maybe more hours. He’s completely across his brief.
“Biden is a professional, and you have to be very careful in working with him to make sure you don’t miss anything. He doesn’t miss anything, I can assure you.”
During their hours-long summit, the first between the two leaders since Biden took office in January, the leaders pledged to have regular negotiations to try and lay the groundwork for future arms control agreements and to return their respective ambassadors to their posts.
Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, will resume his duties in Washington next week after being temporarily recalled since March, the Interfax news agency cited the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Thursday.
‘A plus sign’
Putin’s remarks on Thursday came hours after the Kremlin praised the outcome of the summit, but also warned there were still significant points of disagreement between Moscow and Washington.
Before the talks, both sides had said big breakthroughs were unlikely with relations at post-Cold War lows.
“From the very beginning, we warned against exaggerated expectations in connection with this summit,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. “But now we can say, primarily based on the assessment by the president himself, that it was more with a plus sign.”
Peskov praised in particular the commitment to dialogue on “strategic stability” and arms control.
“Even though it’s a very short text … the joint statement on strategic stability realises the special responsibility of our two countries not only to our people but to the whole world,” he said.
During the summit, both sides rejected the possibility of a nuclear war, which was according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, a moment of “real success”.
Ryabkov told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper the move was “Washington’s second step in restoring common sense and a responsible approach to key aspects of international security” following the extension of the New START nuclear treaty under Biden earlier this year.
New START is the last remaining arms reduction pact between the two nuclear states, which together hold more than 90 percent of the world’s entire nuclear weapons arsenal.
Ryabkov said he expected dialogue on strategic stability to start in a “matter of weeks, not months”.
Sounding a note of caution, Peskov highlighted areas of contention including over Belarus, Ukraine, and the role of NATO – the transatlantic security alliance that Biden has strongly recommitted Washington to.
He said Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a “red line” for Moscow and that it was worried by the talk that Kyiv may one day be granted a membership action plan following a recent flare-up of hostilities in the country’s conflict-stricken east, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that he wanted a clear “yes” or “no” from Biden on giving Ukraine a plan to join the alliance.
Biden said Ukraine needed to root out corruption and to meet other criteria before it could join.
At a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday after the summit, Putin said it was “hard to say” if relations between the US and Russia would improve, but that there was a “glimpse of hope”.
He called Biden a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke “the same language”. But he added that there had been no friendship, rather a pragmatic dialogue about the two countries’ interests.
“The meeting was actually very efficient,” Putin said. “It was substantive, it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust.”
Biden told reporters at a separate post-summit news conference that he had outlined US interests to Putin and made clear to him that Washington would respond if Russia infringed on those concerns.