U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have ended their summit in Geneva, with Biden describing it as “good” and “positive.”
But he further described the summit in a realistic tone, saying the next several months would serve as a "test" of whether relations between the two countries can improve.
“I am not sitting here saying because the president and I agreed that we would do these things that all of a sudden it's going to work,” Biden said during the press conference after his more than three-hour meeting with Putin. “I'm not saying that.
“What I am saying is, I think there's a genuine prospect to significantly improve the relations between our two countries, without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and our values," Biden said.
In his press conference after the summit, Putin, speaking through an interpreter, also described the meeting as “constructive.” He said there were “no hostilities,” calling the U.S. leader a “constructive person, well-balanced and experienced, a seasoned politician."
After the summit, both the White House and the Kremlin released identical statements, noting that “even in periods of tension,” both countries have demonstrated they are able to make progress on “shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.”
Both governments said they will begin consultations on strategic stability to manage relations. In his press conference, Putin noted that as nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia have a special responsibility to maintain relations.
"The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the White House and Kremlin statements said.
"Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” the statement said.
While both leaders noted the talks were productive, it is clear divisions remain.
Biden said there were disagreements, but "it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere," adding that no threats were made during the meeting.
Those disputes include the issue of Ukraine, cyberattacks and human rights.
"I pointed out to him we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but it's significant,” Biden said, noting that he told Putin that critical U.S. infrastructure should be “off limits” to cyberattacks.
Biden appeared to suggest that should Moscow launch such an attack, the U.S. may retaliate “in a cyber way.”
“I looked at him, I said, ‘Well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?’” Biden said.
Putin denies U.S. accusations of election meddling and cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks on American businesses that U.S. intelligence agencies conclude may be coming from within Russian territories.
Biden also said he “made it clear” to Putin the U.S. will continue to raise human rights issues.
"Human rights is going to always be on the table," Biden said. He said he brought up issues like the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia because "that's who we are."
Putin remained firm about his position on Navalny. “This man knew that he was breaking the law of Russia. He has been twice convicted,” Putin said, keeping his habit of not saying the opposition activist’s name aloud.
Repeating Russia's official claim, Putin said Navalny violated bail conditions last year by going abroad while unconscious after an apparent Novichok poisoning and by failing to check in with Russian officials as required.
Biden underscored a demand for press freedom. “I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech,” Biden said referring to the U.S.-funded media that were branded as “foreign agents” by the Russian government and accused of violating rules that could be punished with heavy fines, even imprisonment.
A recent incident in which a commercial airline was forced to land in Minsk, so that Belarusian authorities could arrest a prominent dissident, also was discussed, Biden said, adding that Putin “didn't disagree with what happened.”
“He just said it's a perspective of what you do about it,” Biden said. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko relies heavily on Putin for support.
Ukraine appears to be another issue where the two leaders disagreed.
Biden said he communicated to Putin “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“We agreed to pursue diplomacy, related to the Minsk Agreement,” he said, referring to the 2014 deal to halt the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Prior to the summit, Ukrainian officials played down the prospect of ending the war in the eastern part of the country, which has been simmering for seven years between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army.
“We have made it very clear to our partners that no agreement on Ukraine reached without Ukraine will be recognized by us,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
On the issue of Ukraine’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Putin gave a terse assessment. “I don’t think there is anything to discuss there,” he said.
The Kremlin has stated that Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a “red line” for Russia. Asked earlier this week about whether Ukraine should join NATO, Biden said, "It depends on whether they meet the criteria,” including cleaning up corruption.
The administration announced earlier this month that Biden will host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the White House sometime this summer. Biden has not invited Putin to Washington.
No Cold War
Biden emphasized the “last thing” Putin wants now is a Cold War. He said that while the summit’s end is not a “Kumbaya moment,” it's in neither country’s interest to be in a “new Cold War” situation.
Biden went on to say he thinks Putin understands this, though it doesn't mean Putin is "willing to lay down his arms.” Biden assessed the Russian leader is still concerned that the U.S. aims to "take him down.”
Putin said in a bid to lower tensions, he and Biden agreed to return their ambassadors to their posts in the future. U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan and Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov left their posts earlier this year amid worsening U.S.-Russia relations. They both participated in expanded bilateral discussions at the summit.
According to a White House official, the summit ended at 5:05 CEST Wednesday when the expanded bilateral between the two delegations concluded. That meeting on the American side included five high-level officials in addition to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The session was concluded after one expanded bilateral meeting, according to the official, not two as was previously scheduled.