Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutin praised their constructive exchanges on Wednesday at a summit in Geneva, showing their desire to ease tensions while remaining stingy with concrete announcements.
“There was no animosity (…) It was a frank and direct discussion”, estimated the Russian president at the end of the meeting, while his American counterpart evoked, during a press conference distinct, a “positive” tone.
In a clear break with the procrastination and ambiguities of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, the Democratic President assured to have clearly warned the strong man of the Kremlin, in particular on cyberattacks.
He announced that he had sent his counterpart a list of 16 “critical infrastructures” (energy, water supply, etc.) which were “untouchable” in his eyes. And assured that the United States could respond with the same weapons in the event of a “cyber” attack.
He also assured that he would not tolerate “attempts to destabilize our democratic elections”, in a reference to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Asked, when he had finished his press conference, on the reasons why he thought that Putin was going to change his behavior, he got carried away, assuring that he had never hinted at such a thing.
– Return of the ambassadors –
The only concrete sign of a certain thaw, Mr. Putin said he had agreed with Mr. Biden on the return of their respective ambassadors, recalled earlier this year for consultations. He also ruled that a “compromise” on a prisoner exchange was possible.
The two leaders also spoke of a future dialogue on “cyber-security”, while remaining evasive on its outlines.
Joe Biden? “I can say that he is a constructive, balanced person (…) and that is what I expected”, commented Mr. Poutine.
Vladimir Poutine? “He’s not looking for a Cold War with the United States,” Biden commented.
But the two leaders also exchanged a few pikes, by interposed press conferences.
While he admitted that the two men had raised the issue of human rights, Vladimir Putin immediately embarked on a long diatribe against the United States on this theme: from the attack on Congress on January 6 to a bombing of civilians in Afghanistan through police violence against the African-American minority.
This exit provoked, half an hour later, a sharp retort from the American president who denounced “ridiculous comparisons”.
“Putin is, without a shadow of a doubt, still Putin after this summit,” stressed in a tweet Ben Rhodes, former close advisor to Barack Obama on foreign affairs.
When the fate of the opponent Alexeï Navalny, now imprisoned after seeing the near death of a poisoning which he accuses the Kremlin of having instigated, Mr. Putin simply declared: “This man knew he was breaking the law in force in Russia “.
Joe Biden this week issued a warning about the opponent. Navalny’s death “would only deteriorate relations with the rest of the world. And with me,” he said.
– “Two great powers” –
Joe Biden had proposed at the beginning of the discussions to his Russian counterpart more “predictable” relations between the United States and Russia, believing that “two great powers” should manage their disagreements in a “rational” way.
The first summit between the two men – a little shorter than expected – ended at 5:05 p.m. (3:05 p.m. GMT) in Geneva.
The White House claimed a twofold objective: to explore possible avenues of cooperation and to deter Putin from continuing his “destabilizing activities” around the world.
“We try to determine where we have common interests and where we can cooperate. And when this is not the case, to establish a predictable and rational way to manage our disagreements”, explained for his part the American president, at the beginning. of the discussion.
“Two great powers,” he added, in marked contrast to the words of former Democratic President Barack Obama who had described Russia as a “regional power”.
The Russian president can rely on a long experience: he has already rubbed shoulders with four other American presidents since coming to power at the end of 1999.
Many experts agree that, even before the summit was held, he had obtained what he most wanted: a meeting highlighting the importance of Russia on the world stage.
The summit was expected to last between four and five hours, but the delegations finally parted after about 3.30 hours.
For Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the words of the American president were “disturbing”.
“I think President Biden misjudged who he was dealing with,” he tweeted.