With relations at ‘low point’, Biden meets Putin for talks in Geneva

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US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on June 16 for talks that promise to be fraught amid ongoing disputes over allegations of espionage, hacking, election meddling, Russian incursions into Ukraine and human rights issues.

US President Joe Biden used the G7 summit in the English seaside town of Carbis Bay to argue that the world’s richest democracies now face an existential struggle with “autocrats” that would define the 21st century.

Biden said on Sunday that “autocrat” Vladimir Putin was right when he described UR-Russian relations as at the lowest point in years, though he suggested Russia might be weaker than it appeared and Moscow had advanced too far in the Middle East. .

The US president called Russia — whose economy is 13 times smaller than the United States — unacceptable behavior on several fronts, but also pointed to Russia’s own “dilemmas,” including the post-Soviet economic collapse, which he called its overreach in Syria. and ongoing difficulties in taming Covid-19 infections.

“Russia has its own dilemmas, dealing with its economy, dealing with Covid and dealing with – not just the United States and Europe, big writing – and in the Middle East,” he said.

“Russia has engaged in activities that we believe are contrary to international standards, but they have also bitten off some real problems that they will struggle to deal with,” Biden said.

He also said Putin was right when he described the relationship as a low point: “He’s right, it’s a low point.”

Biden said he told Putin before he was elected that he would look into whether the Russian leader had been involved in attempts to disrupt the US election.

“I checked, so I had access to all the information — he was involved in those activities,” Biden said.

‘Autocrats’

Biden cited Syria as an example and an area in which the two powers could work together to find “accommodation”.

But moderating Russia’s behavior on the world stage has proved difficult in the past.

When asked why Putin, who has led Russia since Boris Yeltsin stepped down in 1999, hadn’t changed despite years of Western sanctions, Biden quipped, “He’s Vladimir Putin.”

“Autocrats have tremendous power and they don’t have to answer to an audience and the fact is that it can be very good if I respond in kind, the way I want it, that it doesn’t deter him – he wants to keep going,” Biden said. .

The two former enemies of the Cold War have had a turbulent relationship for years, although relations deteriorated further after Putin attempted to rebuild some of the clout lost in the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and spread far beyond the Russian borders began to interfere.

US and other Western leaders now see Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s China as their top strategic threats, though the Kremlin rejects allegations of hacking and election meddling against Russia and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.

The West, for its part, sees Russia as a dictatorial kleptocracy ruled by an elite group of Putin friends that has been involved in irresponsible international outings such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, attempts to meddle in US and European elections, and a series of high-profile espionage and assassination attempts abroad.

Prisoner Swap

But there were some signs of a possible deal in the days leading up to the Geneva talks, with Putin renewing an offer to swap prisoners ahead of his first summit with Biden, who has also come under increasing pressure for his release. of Americans out of Russian prisons. .

Asked for a Russian statement that Moscow would be ready to extradite cybercriminals to the United States if Washington followed suit, Biden said that was a good sign and “progress.”

Biden, who pledged early on to take a more astute, tougher approach with Putin than his predecessors, has said he would raise the plight of imprisoned Americans when he meets the Russian leader in Geneva.

The most prominent American citizens in Russian custody are Paul Whelan, a former security officer at an auto parts company who was arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage, and Trevor Reed, who was arrested in 2019 for a drunken brawl involving two Russian police officers.

Asked in an interview with NBC News that aired Monday whether he was willing to negotiate a prisoner swap with Biden, Putin said, “Yes, of course” and called for a broader extradition deal.

Putin said some cases were “humanitarian matters”.

“Why not discuss them as long as they relate to the health and lives of specific individuals and their families? Of course. Of course,” he said.

Putin also hinted that Reed’s case could be resolved soon, calling him a “drunk and a troublemaker.”

“These things happen in life. There’s nothing terrible about it. It happens to our men too,” Putin said.

Putin has also specifically raised the case of contract pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, saying he was also charged with “common crime” and that he has “major health problems” that are being ignored by prison authorities.

Yaroshenko was convicted in 2011 of smuggling drugs into the United States. He was extradited from Liberia in what the Kremlin denounced as a kidnapping.

Other prominent Russians in US custody include Viktor Bout, the prolific arms dealer arrested in Thailand in 2010 who inspired Nicolas Cage’s character in the movie “Lord of War.”

He is serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges of smuggling weapons to Colombian FARC rebels.

( Jowharwith REUTERS, AFP)