The last time President BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters stick to 2020 story FDA approves yet another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns China collects athletes’ DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE met the Russian president Vladimir Putin, he says he told the Russian leader that he did not think he had a soul.
This exchange was just one of the reasons why the meeting between the two men in Geneva on Wednesday was so highly anticipated.
The summit – the last commitment on Biden’s week-long trip to Europe – came amid tensions over Ukraine, the treatment of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, recent cyber attacks and allegations of electoral interference.
Here are the top five takeaways.
A return to pragmatism
The White House was careful to downplay expectations for the summit, stressing that no “deliveries” or major breakthroughs were expected.
So it turned out. Biden instead tried to frame the meeting as an exercise in worldly pragmatism.
At a press conference afterwards, he stressed the importance of “strategic stability.”
By that, he seemed to mean that there should be a usable degree of predictability as to what Washington or Moscow could do in different scenarios – and an awareness of the red lines for each nation.
On cybersecurity, he argued that any attack organized by Russia would be met with a meaningful – if vaguely described – response from the United States.
Biden made it clear that he and Putin would not miraculously lock up. Rather, he highlighted the possibility that the Russian leader could burn out his country’s reputation over time by staying within international norms.
“This is not a ‘Kumbaya’ moment … but it is clearly not in any interest – your country or mine – for us to be in a situation where we are in a new Cold War,” Biden added.
Such statements are not exactly exciting. But they show Biden trying to go a fine line.
He knows that his political and media opponents at home are eager to label him as weak in his relationship with Putin, so a certain toughness of tone is required. At the same time, if Biden had constructed a dramatic explosion, it would have raised new questions about why the United States had initially issued the invitation to the summit.
In the end, the event met modest expectations.
Putin, for his part, struck a similar note.
“What’s the point of keeping a score?” he said at his own press conference that preceded Bidens. “It makes no sense to try to scare each other.”
Capitol riots raise their heads
The most controversial topic from the two leaders’ dueling news conferences was an unexpected topic – the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
Putin raised the issue in response to a question on human rights in Russia. It is generally a hot topic, especially in the midst of criticism of the Kremlin’s treatment of Navalny.
Putin reacted in a characteristic way, drawing attention to US aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the continued existence of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
But he then drew the uprising into the same broad argument, saying mildly that “people came to the American Capitol with political demands.” The law enforcement response, he suggested, had been too harsh.
This view – which replicates the conversation points of the most ardent supporters of the past President TrumpDonald Trump Kushner lands book deal, scheduled for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump’s trade legacy with EU deal Progressive welcomes Harrison’s start at DNC MORE – annoyed Biden when it was sent to him at his press conference.
The president said any comparison of Jan. 6 with legitimate protest was “ridiculous.”
The January 6 riots, he added, were “literally criminals” who had broken through a security cord to attack the Capitol.
Biden praised as ‘not Trump’
Biden had a big advantage by attending Wednesday’s summit – the low bar set by his predecessor.
When Trump met Putin in Helsinki in 2018, the US president was widely criticized for a craven performance. Trump seemed infamous for taking Putin’s words over US intelligence’s testimony about whether Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
The deceased late. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain Meghan McCain: Harris ‘Sounds Like an Idiot’ Discussing Immigration Arizona AG Mark Brnovich Launches Senate Challenge to Mark Kelly Arizona Democrats Launch Voter Expansion Efforts Ahead of Central Senate Race MORE (R-Ariz.) Branded Trump’s behavior at this meeting as “shameful.”
Biden has been trying to reassure U.S. allies over the past week that “America is back” – a clear allusion to the disruption and frequent chaos of the Trump years.
Much of the comments that originally followed Wednesday’s summit measured the City’s performance relative to its predecessor.
For the most part, Biden received positive reviews simply by staying within the standard parameters. Thus, he offered a contrast to Trump’s apparent joy of trampling on every line.
Putin enjoys opportunity
Putin’s desire to flex Russian muscles on the world stage is well known.
The Russian president – a KGB agent at the time the Soviet Union crumbled – is sensitive to any diminution in the importance of his country.
Criticism of Biden’s decision to propose the summit revolved around the idea that the event would certainly raise Putin.
The Russian president certainly seemed to enjoy the limelight. His long press conference was mostly casual and even jocular. While complaining about American double standards on issues such as human rights, he very much had to point out that the atmosphere in his meeting with Biden had been constructive.
“There was no hostility, on the contrary,” he said. On several occasions he praised Biden’s experience.
Putin’s clear enjoyment of the event annoyed some observers. One critic, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, complained to MSNBC that Putin had “got what he wanted” simply by virtue of the summit.
Questions linger with details
The summit provided positive mood music for Biden and Putin, but it is unclear whether it requires any real change.
An extension of the new START arms reduction treaty had already been agreed before the summit. Putin said the two nations agreed that their ambassadors, who had been recalled to their home countries in the spring, would soon return to their posts.
The White House then issued a statement stating that the two nations “will initiate an integrated bilateral strategic stability dialogue in the near future, which will be conscious and robust.”
The proposal is vague and can be undone with a moment’s notice of something that raises frictions, such as new cyber attacks.
This, in turn, explains Biden’s positive but cautious tone.
At his press conference, whether he trusted Putin, the president pushed back against the terms of the issue.
“This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest, ”he said. “Lets see what happens.”