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Tensions Rise Ahead of Biden and Putin’s Summit

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President Biden and Russian President Putin are scheduled to meet in Geneva on Wednesday. This is Biden’s first sit-down with Putin as head of state.

What We Know:

  • Current relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their worst since the Cold War. Putin’s bolstering of the Russian military along the Ukrainian border and the annexation of Crimea have induced anxiety worldwide. Russia’s efforts to weaken democracy in the U.S., through Kremlin’s election meddling on behalf of Donald Trump in 2016, to the recent cyber attacks on infrastructure, have given Biden reason to be firm.
  • Biden has been preparing with National Security advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for this summit. In a news conference on Monday in Brussels, he said he would offer Putin opportunities to work with the U.S. on mutual issues such as arms control and climate change if the hostilities lessened. “And if he chooses not to cooperate…then we will respond. We will respond in kind,” he told the press.
  • Officials were expecting little results to come from this preliminary discussion. During the Obama administration, Michael McFaul, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, said, “Putin today, over the course of this decade, has become way more autocratic at home and way more belligerent towards the U.S. and the West in his policy.” Putin has little incentive to change his behavior as Biden is the fifth president he has encountered during his more than two decades in power.
  • Initially, officials hoped for the renegotiation of arms control and announced that the respective ambassadors would return to their stations. This was achieved, according to Putin and Biden, in their press conferences following their meeting today. Both leaders noted that the meeting was very constructive, only taking three hours.
  • Putin remarked that Biden was someone he would be willing to work with and respected his leadership. He said to the press, “The meeting was actually very efficient. It was substantive, it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust.”

Putin denied Russia’s involvement in cyberattacks against the U.S. Regardless, Biden achieved the best-case scenario in the eyes of officials by conducting an error-free summit and delivering a stern message to Putin, a strong contrast to the overly friendly approach of former President Trump.

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