Geneva, 17 June: US President Joe Biden and his Russia counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to hold talks on arms control and to return their respective ambassadors to their posts, after a summit in Geneva that highlighted their deep discord on human rights, cyberattacks, election interference, and Ukraine.
It was the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office in January, and lasted for more than three hours.
Both presidents used careful pleasantries to describe their face-to-face discussions at the lakeside Swiss villa, with Biden calling them “positive” and Putin describing them as “constructive” and without hostility.
At a solo press conference following the summit, Biden stressed that he did not make threats during the meeting, and said he outlined US interests, including cybersecurity, and made clear to Putin that Washington would respond if Russia infringed on those concerns.
“I looked at him and said: ‘How would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?’ He said: ‘It would matter,’” Biden told reporters.
The query referred to a cyberattack that closed the Colonial Pipeline Co system for several days in May, preventing millions of barrels of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from flowing to the US’s East Coast from the Gulf Coast.
“I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it,” Biden added.
The two sides reached an important agreement to return their chief diplomats to Moscow and Washington after they were brought home as the relationship deteriorated in recent months. Russia recalled its envoy after Biden said in March that he thought Putin was a “killer”. The United States recalled its ambassador soon after.
Putin said that he had been satisfied by Biden’s explanation of the remark.
But there was no hiding their differences on issues such as human rights, where Biden said the consequences for Russia would be “devastating” if jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny died.
Speaking to reporters before Biden, Putin dismissed US concerns about Navalny, Russia’s increased military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border and US suggestions that Russians were responsible for the cyberattacks on the United States.
He also suggested Washington was in no position to lecture Moscow on rights, batting away question about his crackdown on political rivals by saying he was trying to avoid the “disorder” of a popular movement, such as Black Lives Matter.