US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin face off in their first meeting since Biden took office with wide disagreements likely and expectations low for any breakthroughs.
Both have said they hope their talks in a stately lakeside Geneva villa can lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
“We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior US official told reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr Biden flew to Geneva, saying the two are expected to talk for four or five hours starting about 1pm (2100 AEST) on Wednesday.
“I’m not sure that any agreements will be reached,” Mr Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said.
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 Mr Biden said he thought Mr Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations. The United States recalled its ambassador in April. Neither has since returned.
The senior US official said the United States aimed for a set of “taskings” – Washington jargon for assigning aides to work on specific issues – “about areas where working together can advance our national interests and make the world safer”.
Arms control is one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider agreements.
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.
While the issues may be vexing, the surroundings will be serene when the presidents meet in Villa La Grange, an elegant mansion set in a park overlooking Lake Geneva.
Mr Biden arrived in Switzerland following consultations with leaders at the G7, NATO and US-European Union summits, where he worked to strengthen ties with partner nations in order to better deal with Russia and China.
In contrast with Mr Trump, whose 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, Mr Biden and Mr Putin are not expected to have any solo dealings.
Standing beside Mr Putin in Helsinki, Mr 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.