News World Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin talks were ‘pragmatic’. But they don’t end tensions
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Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin talks were ‘pragmatic’. But they don’t end tensions

Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden said they were not friends, but ‘spoke the same language’ and had ‘pragmatic’ discussions. Photo: Getty
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US President Joe Biden has gifted Russian President Vladimir Putin a crystal sculpture and a custom pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses during an historic meeting in Switzerland.

Mr Putin and Mr Biden shook hands on arrival before going inside the lakeside Villa La Grange in Geneva, and Mr Biden flashed a ‘thumbs-up’ to reporters as he left and got into his limousine.

But the meeting was not friendly, even after Mr Putin called Mr Biden a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke “the same language”.

Prior to their meeting, the leaders had agreed that the relationship between the two countries was at an historic “low point”.

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

They sank further in March when Mr Biden said he thought Mr Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall its ambassador to Washington. The US recalled its ambassador in April.

Even after the gift-giving, which is common among foreign dignitaries, Mr Putin clarified there had been no friendship.

Rather it was a “pragmatic” dialogue about their two countries’ interests, he said, adding that it was “hard to say” if relations with the US would improve, but that there was a “glimpse of hope” regarding mutual trust.

What did they talk about?

The discussions at the lakeside Villa La Grange in Geneva lasted less than four hours – far less than Mr Biden’s advisers had said they expected. The leaders did not share a meal during that time.

The pair agreed to resume arms control talks and to return ambassadors to each other’s capitals after they were withdrawn earlier this year.

Mr Putin, 68, said Russia and the US shared responsibility for nuclear stability and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New START arms limitation treaty.

Mr Putin showed little appetite for compromise on a range of other issues.

He dismissed Washington’s concerns about the arrest of opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, about Russia’s increased military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border, and about US suggestions that unidentified Russians were responsible for a series of cyber-attacks in the United States.

Mr Putin said Mr Navalny had ignored the law and had known what would happen if he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had received treatment for an attempt inside Russia to kill him with poison.

He also accused Kyiv of breaking the terms of a ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin leader said Washington and Moscow would start consultations on cybersecurity, alleging that most cyber-attacks on Russia came from the US.

He said Mr Biden had raised human rights issues and also the fate of US citizens jailed in Russia.

Mr Putin said he believed some compromises could be found, although he gave no indication of any prisoner exchange deal.

Arms control is, however, 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 the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Both sides had said in advance of the summit that they hoped for more stable and predictable relations, even though they were at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.

How did the meeting compare to others?

The scheduling of separate news conferences meant there was none of the joviality that accompanied a 2018 meeting in Helsinki between Mr Putin and Mr Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

At that appearance, Mr Putin had presented Mr Trump with a soccer ball.

Mr Donald Trump receives a football from Russian President Vladimir Putin as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki in 2018. Photo: Getty

That summit had included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters.

In contrast, Mr Biden and Mr Putin had no solo talks.

Standing beside Mr Putin in Helsinki in 2018, Mr Trump refused to blame him for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.

Biden’s gifts to Putin

Mr Biden, who has been wearing Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses since he was a teenager, gave the Russian president a pair that had been designed by Randolph USA for fighter pilots.

The company has long been providing these sunglasses to the US military and NATO partners, a statement by the White House read.

Mr Biden also handed Mr Putin an American bison sculpture that was created by Steuben Glass of New York.

The art piece, worth US$3200 (A$4200), is of one of the “most majestic mammals” in the US and represents “strength, unity and resilience,” the White House said.

-with AAP