GENEVA: US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their first summit on Wednesday to return ambassadors to each other’s capitals after they were withdrawn earlier this year.
The summit at the lakeside Villa La Grange in Geneva lasted less than four hours — far less than Biden’s advisers had said they expected.
The scheduling of separate news conferences meant there was none of the joviality that accompanied a 2018 meeting between Putin and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
Putin, who was first to brief reporters, said the meeting had been constructive, without hostility, and had showed the leaders’ desire to understand each other.
He also said Russia and the United States shared a responsibility for nuclear stability, and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New START arms limitation treaty.
Both sides had said in advance 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.
Putin and Biden shook hands on arrival before going inside, Biden flashed a ‘thumbs-up’ to reporters as he left the lakeside villa where the talks were held and got into his limousine.
‘A lot of issues’
“Mr President, I’d like to thank you for your initiative to meet today,” Putin said, sitting next to Biden, adding: “US and Russian relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest-level meeting.”
Biden said they would try to determine areas of cooperation and mutual interest. “It is always better to meet face-to-face.”
The first round of talks — which included Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — lasted almost two hours, officials said.
Talks resumed after a break at around 4pm (1400 GMT), with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, who was recalled to Russia in March, among those present. That round ended at 5:05pm (1505 GMT).
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been deteriorating for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and U.S. charges — denied by Moscow — of meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall Antonov to Washington for consultations. The United States recalled its ambassador in April.
Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, but Biden and Putin had no solo talks.
Standing beside Putin in Helsinki in 2018, 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.