Biden, Putin make first historical meeting in Switzerland

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In a highly anticipated summit, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland on Wednesday amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

The summit is taking place at the 18th-century Swiss Villa La Grange in Geneva, along the coast of a lake near the French border. The two leaders met there and were photographed exchanging greetings before they went inside for a photo opportunity that preceded the private meeting.

During the photo opportunity inside the Swiss villa, both leaders said they were hopeful about the meeting.

Biden is expected to raise several hostile issues with Putin – including a swath of recent Russian cyberattacks targeting the United States, election interference, the Kremlin’s detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other human rights concerns.

Both leaders were welcomed by Swiss President Guy Parmelin before the start of the summit.

“Mr. President of the Russian Federation, Mr. President of the United States of America, On behalf of the Swiss government, I would like to welcome you to Geneva, the city of peace,” he said. “I wish you both a fruitful meeting in the interest of your two countries and the world.”

Biden said in April that he wants “a stable, predictable relationship” with Russia, but warned that his administration won’t sit idly by if the Kremlin continues to interfere with U.S. democracy.

The White House has said Biden doesn’t see Wednesday’s summit as rewarding Putin for destabilizing actions but rather a “vital part” of defending U.S. interests and values.

“Joe Biden is not meeting with Vladimir Putin despite our countries’ differences,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before the trip. “He’s meeting with him because of our countries’ differences.”

Psaki explained that there’s no substitute for face-to-face engagement, especially for those with a “complex” relationship, and Putin’s highly personalized decision-making style means it’s important that Biden sit down with him “to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage our differences and to identify those areas where we can work in America’s interests to make progress.”

Wednesday’s meeting comes at the end of Biden’s eight-day trip to Europe, where he met with politicians, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and held meetings with the Group of Seven nations, NATO and the European Union in a push to reassert U.S. leadership on the world stage and bolster democracy worldwide.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that Biden would go into the Putin summit “with the wind at his back.” On Monday, Biden told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, that he planned to tell Putin — who he’s previously met and called “bright,” “tough” and “a worthy adversary” — that the United States and allies won’t fail to defend themselves and democratic values.

“I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses,” he said. “And if chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, we will respond – we will respond in kind.”

Biden brushed aside the idea of trusting Putin at the meeting and said it’s more about getting on the same page with the Russian leader.

“I’m hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest, in terms of his own interests, in changing the perception that the world has of him, in terms of whether or not he will engage in behavior that’s more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behavior for a head of state,” he said.

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