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Biden, Putin Face Off At Long-awaited Summit

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US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have started a high-stakes summit that is expected to be dominated by deep disagreements.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin kicked off a highly-anticipated summit in Geneva on Wednesday.

The leaders’ first in-person meeting, which is taking place at a lakeside villa, comes amid soaring tensions between their two countries.

Opening the talks, Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, while Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said: “It is always better to meet face to face.”

There were low expectations of a breakthrough, with a string of contentious issues on the agenda. But both sides have said they hope the meeting can at least lead to more stable and predictable relations.

Swiss President Guy Parmelin is acting as host during the talks, which are scheduled to last four to five hours.

What is on the agenda?

Biden and Putin are likely to discuss a raft of issues, including arms control, cybercrime, Ukraine, Belarus, election interference and the coronavirus pandemic.

The US president is expected to broach the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, although the Russian side has said that is an internal matter that Putin won’t be drawn on.

DW correspondent Alexandra von Nahmen says cybersecurity will be at the top of the agenda.

“There have been a few quite far-reaching cyberattacks in the US recently, some of them having Russian fingerprints on them, so the Biden administration is calling on Russia to do more to deter such attacks from within its borders,” she said.

“Both sides want to lower the temperature a notch or two and they’re trying to find ways to resume their dialogue.”

Relations between the two countries deteriorated following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and amid US allegations that Moscow meddled in its 2016 presidential election.

The situation worsened after Biden called Putin a killer in March, prompting Russia to recall its ambassador from Washington. The US then recalled its ambassador from Moscow. The possibility of returning the diplomats to their respective posts may also be on the agenda.

What do observers say about the talks?

US Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Chris Kupchan told DW the two leaders are “not coming in looking for a bromance like Trump and Putin,” but Biden could “invest in some kind of working relationship with Putin.”

“Biden is much more worried about China than he is about Russia. And I’m guessing that Putin is growing quietly uncomfortable with China. So part of this conversation might be about trying to improve the Western relationship with Russia in a way that contains China’s leverage and gives Moscow a little bit of breathing room in its relationship with Beijing,” he said.

Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), said Putin “understands that relations between Russia and the United States will continue to be mostly adversarial, at least for the foreseeable future. But at the same time, there are some potential pockets of cooperation that can be pursued further. And even the confrontation can and should be managed, to reduce costs and to cut down the risks.”

David O’Sullivan, former EU ambassador to the US, said Biden would aim to be charming, and at the same time “open but firm on the points which are important for him.”

“He will reach out to Putin and say, ‘look, we don’t agree on everything. Let’s find a way of coexisting and not creating excessive tensions for each other’.”

Source: Deutsche Welle, Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko, kbd/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)

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