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Biden and Putin shake hands, kicking off Geneva summit

Biden and Putin shake hands, kicking off Geneva summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jun 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

GENEVA: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin kicked off their summit on Wednesday (Jun 16) with a handshake outside the Geneva villa where the two presidents plan to confront each other over the worst US-Russia tensions in years.

Following an introduction by their host, Swiss President Guy Parmelin, Biden extended his arm for his first handshake with Putin since taking office in January.

"It's always better to meet face to face," Biden said as the two men sat down with their top diplomats, kicking off the summit where ghosts of the Cold War hovered over modern-day US concerns about Russian cyberattacks and what the White House sees as a dangerous authoritarian drift.

Striking a positive note, Putin said he hoped the "meeting will be productive" as the tete-a-tete opened.

The setting - a villa overlooking Lake Geneva - may be picturesque, but a gruelling diplomatic face-off that could last up to five hours awaits, with no food breaks planned.

Both have said they hope their talks in a lakeside Geneva villa can lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything.

"We're not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting," a senior US official told reporters earlier.

"I'm not sure that any agreements will be reached," said Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.

Relations have deteriorated for years, notably with Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and US charges - denied by Moscow - of its meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.

They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a "killer", prompting Russia to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations. The United States recalled its ambassador in April.

The senior US official said the United States was looking at "areas where working together can advance our national interests and make the world safer".

READ: Biden and Putin summit: Where they disagree and where they might compromise

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said whether or not to send back ambassadors would be decided by the two presidents. "Today the presidents will need to determine how to proceed with the heads of the diplomatic missions," Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

While the issues may be vexing, the surroundings will be serene at Villa La Grange, an elegant mansion set in a 30-hectare park overlooking Lake Geneva.

LOCKDOWN

On Wednesday, the summit perimeter was under a tight lockdown with heavy police presence. Following a their bilateral meeting, Biden and Putin will continue on to their discussions with broader US and Russian delegations including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with interpreters.

Arms control is one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider disagreements.

In February, Russia and the United States extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps their deployed strategic nuclear warheads and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

The senior US official said Biden would also define areas of vital national interest where Russian misconduct would bring a response. Biden signed an executive order in April giving Washington wide latitude to impose sanctions on Moscow.

In a sign of the strained ties, the talks will not include any meals and Putin and Biden are expected to hold separate news conferences rather than a joint one.

"No breaking of bread," said the senior US official.

READ: Biden-Putin summit details: Up to five hours in a villa without meals

Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat, told Reuters that Putin wanted respectful ties and to be treated like members of the Soviet Politburo were in the 1960s-1980s, with "a symbolic recognition of Russia's geopolitical parity with the US".

"In exchange, they (Moscow) would be willing to cut back on some of the loony stuff," Frolov said, saying he meant "no poisonings, no physical violence, no arrests/kidnappings of US and Russian nationals. No interference in domestic politics".

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, set the bar for Wednesday's talks low.

"The principal takeaway, in the positive sense, from the Geneva meeting would be making sure that the United States and Russia did not come to blows physically, so that a military collision is averted," he said.

In contrast to Trump, whose 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, Biden and Putin are not expected to have any solo dealings.

Standing beside Putin in Helsinki, Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.

Source: AGENCIES/aj

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