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Biden and Putin hold 'constructive' summit, but both agree there's more work ahead

Biden Putin summit
Posted at 4:35 AM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 14:21:03-04

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have concluded a momentous summit in Geneva, Switzerland — a summit that took place when both leaders agreed relations were at a low point.

In separate press conferences Wednesday, both leaders classified the talks as constructive and cordial. While both pointed to specific agreements reached during the discussions, their post-meeting press conferences made it clear that some chasmic policy gaps remain.

Biden and Putin both agreed to return foreign ambassadors to their posts on Wednesday. Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, and U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, were both expelled from their posts in the spring following U.S. sanctions on Russia in response to the SolarWinds cyberattacks.

The two leaders also agreed to open discussions regarding those ongoing cyberattacks. Biden said he presented Putin with a list of 16 entities — including the energy sectors and water systems — that he said should be "off-limits" to further attacks.

However, during Putin's press conference Wednesday, he denied Russia's responsibility for those attacks, and instead placed the blame for such attacks on America itself.

Biden did tell reporters that he told Putin that the U.S. will respond in the event of future attacks.

"He knows there will be consequences," Biden said. "I pointed out that we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it,"

The two leaders also appear far apart when it comes to Russia's alleged human rights abuses. When asked by reporters about Russian pro-democracy advocate Alexei Navalny, Putin refused to address Navalny by name and conflated his opposition party with those who rioted on Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

At his press conference, Biden called that comparison "ridiculous," and added that should Navalny die in prison it would be "devastating" for Russia.

"Human rights is always going to be on the table," Biden said, adding that he will continue to raise the case of Navalny, as well as imprisoned Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.

Putin also called Biden an "experienced statesman," and "very different from his predecessor, President Donald Trump.

"Our one-on-one conversation took almost two hours," Putin said. "It's not every world leader that gets this amount of attention."

Putin also sidestepped questions from American journalists regarding his jailed and deceased political opponents.

Putin arrived first at the Villa at Geneva's Parc La Grange just after 7 a.m. ET (1 p.m. Central European Time), followed by Biden about 15 minutes later. Both world leaders shook hands with Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin upon their arrival.

Following their arrival, Biden, Parmelin and Putin emerged from the Villa for a short photo op, where they shook hands before beginning their meeting.

According to CNN, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken joined Biden and Putin for part of Wednesday's meeting, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Later, the meeting expanded to include a five-member delegation from each country.

Biden and Putin departed around 11:30 a.m. ET Wednesday. The Associated Press reports that the meeting wrapped up quicker than expected and lasted "less than three hours."

When asked about the shorter-than-expected timespan, Biden said the discussion had simply run its course.

"When's the last time two heads spent more than two hours across the table, head-to-head...you may know of a time, I don't," Biden said.

The meeting wraps up a nearly-week-long foreign trip for Biden, his first as president. He's expected to arrive back in the U.S. late Wednesday or early Thursday morning.