The summit between the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and that of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has just started this Wednesday in Geneva (Switzerland) with great expectation, many more misgivings, and an agenda that is a minefield. A bilateral meeting between the old enemies of the Cold War always carries its dose of tension, but when their leaders have known each other for so long, they have come to accuse each other of being murderers and having no soul – Biden to Putin – the uncertainty reaches another category. Both countries are also going through their worst moment since the fall of the USSR, amid an escalation of sanctions and expulsions of diplomats as a result of electoral interference by the Kremlin, cyberattacks and the repression of opponents in Russia, with the arrest by Alexéi Navalni as a symbol.
The harshness of the agenda contrasts with the spectacular scenery, an 18th century mansion on a green hill overlooking Lake Geneva. Around the idyllic setting, Switzerland has deployed more than 4,000 police and military personnel. The city, especially the center and the surroundings of the Villa La Grange, name of the mansion, they are armored.
Putin has come first to the appointment, followed by Biden. Around one-thirty in the afternoon, both leaders greeted each other before the host, the Swiss President, Guy Parmelin, who received them at the entrance. “It is always better to meet face to face,” said the North American. The Russian has indicated that he expects the day to be “productive.” The first meeting, which started in a few minutes, includes the foreign ministers, the American Antony Blinken and the Russian Sergei Lavrov.
Biden arrived in Geneva on Tuesday night, the last stop on a trip to Europe, while Putin, who often avoids spending nights out, flew in from Moscow this morning, to return at the end of the day, on his first international trip since the pandemic. The White House and the Kremlin advanced that they were scheduled between four and five hours of meeting, after which each will give a separate press conference before the journalists of their respective delegations.
Geneva has been the scene of crucial appointments between Washington and Moscow. In November 1985, in the closing stages of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the former USSR, met there. In the first phase of the conflict, in 1955, Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Kruhshev were mentioned in it, within the so-called summit of the Big Four (together with France and the United Kingdom).
But the discussion will not turn this time so much about nuclear warheads, as it did 70 years ago, but rather about a new era of hostilities: cybersecurity. The infiltration and siege of government computer equipment, on the one hand; and the delinquency of groups that hijack company data and ask for millionaire figures as ransom, on the other.
Washington accuses Moscow not only of the great election interference operation of 2016, but also of penetrating the bowels of the US Administration, such as the computers of the Treasury Department, as happened with the Solarwinds case last spring. As for high-profile cyberattacks such as the one that forced the stop of the great Colonial pipeline on the East Coast, one of the largest energy arteries in the United States, Biden does not establish ties with the Kremlin, but he does believe that these groups operate from Russia and that, therefore Putin should help stop them.
It is the first meeting between the leaders of these two countries since the one held in the summer of 2018 by Putin and then-President Donald Trump, who left the United States – and half the world – speechless by the cordiality shown by the American given the serious accusations of interference that they dealt with, although that harmony did not translate into real changes or a reduction of sanctions against Russia.
For Putin, the summit is also important for domestic politics. He reappears as a player on the global geopolitical board after more than a low-profile year, with very few personal meetings and no travel outside of Russia, according to the Kremlin. Although there are no results after the summit, its celebration already gives Putin points, according to Russian analysts. With popularity declining, the numbers of covid-19 in Russia increasingly high despite the fact that vaccination has been available since January, and social discontent on the rise due to the limping economic situation, how to ‘sell’ the results of Wednesday’s summit may be a boost for the September parliamentary elections, to which United Russia, the party supported by the Kremlin, arrives with low scores.
Inside of Villa La Grange, the Russian delegation has prepared everything to the millimeter: the temperature of the room where the Russian delegates will converse with the presidents, with wooden floors, carpets and thick golden curtains, will be set at 18 degrees Celsius, a requirement of the United States, according to the Russian television; This Wednesday it’s 30 degrees in Geneva. On the work table, with a white tablecloth, circular containers of disinfectant. In Putin’s designated bathroom, with a sign on the door with the Russian flag and the slogan VIP, a colorless, odorless bottle of hand sanitizer.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.