Biden To Confront Putin In Tense Geneva Summit

In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.
In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.

 

President Joe Biden will draw “red lines” for President Vladimir Putin at a tense Geneva summit on Wednesday, where ghosts of the Cold War will hover over modern-day US concerns that Russia has become a rogue, authoritarian state.

The setting — a sumptuous villa overlooking Lake Geneva — may be picturesque, but a gruelling diplomatic face-off awaits.

Up to five hours of talks are planned, starting at around 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), with no break for meals. Putin is due to arrive first, then Biden, with Swiss President Guy Parmelin acting as host.

Asked if the two leaders might share food together, a staple gesture of goodwill in summit diplomacy, a senior US official said no.

“There will be no breaking of bread,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The choice of Geneva, following long US-Russian negotiations, recalls the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985.

This time, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly hostile, rule-breaking regime.

From cyber attacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington’s list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long.

Putin, however, comes to the summit arguing that Moscow is simply challenging US hegemony. It’s part of a bid to promote a so-called “multi-polar” world that has seen Russia and arguably even more powerful US adversary China draw close.

Putin was due to fly into Geneva from Moscow right before meeting the US president. Biden, ending an intensive first foreign trip as president, arrived on Tuesday after summits with NATO and the European Union in Brussels, and a G7 summit in Britain.

Asked if he was ready for Putin, Biden smiled and said: “I’m always ready.”

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Optimism? ‘Not much’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.

 

In an interview with NBC, Putin scoffed at US accusations of dirty tricks abroad and authoritarian crackdowns at home.

As well as denying any connection to what the United States says are Russia-based hacking and ransomware gangs, Putin rejected having any hand in the deaths of many of his opponents during two decades in power.

Addressing one of the main irritants in relations with Washington and with the European Union, Putin insisted he also could not be blamed for the near-fatal poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, one of the few remaining major opposition figures in Russia.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, told journalists in Moscow that the US-Russian relationship was “at an impasse”.

There is “not much” ground for optimism, he added.

Biden’s team likewise expects no “big set of deliverables,” the senior Biden official said.

‘Worthy adversary

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Biden says his main goal is simply to establish clear “red lines” for what the White House will no longer tolerate from Russia.

“I’m not looking for conflict,” he said in Brussels after the NATO summit, but “we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities”.

Biden, who had previously characterised Putin as a “killer”, upgraded the Russian leader to a “tough” and “worthy adversary”.

Going into the summit, Biden has emphasised that he has the backing of his Western partners.

Russia was one of the top topics at the NATO summit in Brussels, where the defence alliance warned that Russian military build-ups on the edge of eastern Europe “increasingly threaten the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and contribute to instability along NATO borders and beyond”.

But for all the rhetoric, the White House and Kremlin both say they are open to doing business in a limited way. Officials point to the recent extension of the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty as an example of successful diplomacy.

According to Russian and US officials, one possible baby step might be quick reinstatement of the two countries’ ambassadors, who returned home this year in response to tensions.

Officials from the two sides say Biden and Putin will initially huddle only with translators and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They will then switch to a larger format.

However, unlike in 2018, when Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump met Putin in Helsinki, there will be no joint press conference at the end.

The US side clearly wants to avoid the optics of having Biden sharing that kind of platform with the Russian president.

In 2018, Trump caused a stir by saying, as Putin stood beside him, that he believed the Kremlin leader over his own intelligence services when it came to accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election bringing Trump to power.

AFP

Putin Threatens To ‘Knock Out Teeth’ Of Russia’s Adversaries

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File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on May 11, 2020. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that Russians would “knock out the teeth” of those who attack their country or eye its vast territory, amid a deep crisis in ties with the West.

Speaking at a government meeting, the Kremlin chief said that Russia’s enemies were looking to clip its wings every time the nation grew strong.

“Everyone wants to bite us somewhere or to bite off something from us,” Putin said.

“But they — those who are going to do it — should know that we will knock out their teeth so that they cannot bite.”

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Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia, the world’s largest country by land mass, is “too big for some”, Putin said.

He did not name Russia’s adversaries explicitly, but said it was important to keep developing the armed forces to protect the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the working group for amending the constitution in Moscow on February 26, 2020. Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the working group for amending the constitution in Moscow on February 26, 2020. Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, is known not to mince words during public meetings.

In 1999, he famously promised to strike at separatists even in the “outhouse” which heralded the adoption of tougher tactics by the authorities against Chechen militants.

Tensions between Moscow and the West are high over a litany of issues, including Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, interference in US elections and other perceived hostile activities.

But signs of a possible détente have recently been growing, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging dialogue during a face-to-face meeting in Reykjavik on Wednesday.

AFP

Kremlin Says It Is ‘Good’ That Biden, Like Putin, Wants dialogue

A file photo combination of Biden and Putin.

 

The Kremlin on Friday said it was “good” that US President Joe Biden was seeking dialogue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, after Biden called for de-escalation.

Biden on Tuesday suggested he and Putin meet for a summit on neutral ground to discuss escalating tensions between Russia and US ally Ukraine, and on Thursday said that it was also “time to de-escalate” for Moscow and Washington.

“President Putin has spoken about the appropriateness of building relations, normalising relations and de-escalating relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday.

“He has repeatedly said that we are ready to develop our dialogue to the degree that our counterparts are ready for this,” he added.

“In this regard, it is indeed good that the points of view of the two heads of state coincide on this”.

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He said that the Kremlin was still considering the offer for a Putin-Biden summit, as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Friday offered his country as a venue for the possible meeting.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Despite the call for cooling tensions, Washington on Thursday angered Moscow by imposing a new round of sanctions on Russia for alleged election interference and hacking, with the Kremlin saying that the penalties will not “help” the potential summit.

“The addiction for sanctions remains unacceptable,” Peskov said Friday.

Biden has promised to take a much firmer line on Moscow than his predecessor Donald Trump.

Last month Biden caused an uproar in Moscow after he agreed with a description of Putin as a “killer”.

The US president on Thursday described the new sanctions as a “measured and proportionate” response to Moscow’s hostile actions against Washington, but said the United States is “not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict”.

AFP

Finland Offers To Host Putin-Biden Summit

A file photo combination of Biden and Putin.

 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has offered Finland as a host country for a possible meeting between US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Niinisto’s office said on Friday. 

“When it comes to this possible meeting, the readiness of Finland to organise it has been presented to both Washington and Moscow,” a spokesman for the Finnish President’s Office told AFP by email.

Finland previously hosted Putin and President Trump in Helsinki for the 2018 summit between the two leaders.

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Yet the decision to host the meeting came under criticism at the time from some in Finland who said it gave the impression that the Nordic country was neutral, rather than a Western power belonging to the EU.

The Finnish president has been a strong advocate of upholding a dialogue with the Kremlin and most recently had a phone call with president Putin on Tuesday, expressing “serious concern” over Russia’s troop movements along the border with Ukraine.

Biden proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart during a call on Tuesday, in order to discuss rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

AFP

Putin Signs Law Allowing Him To Serve Two More Terms

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the members of the Security Council via teleconference call, in Moscow, Russia on November 6, 2020. Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday gave final approval to legislation allowing him to hold office for two additional six-year terms, opening the possibility for him to stay in power until 2036.

The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has already been in power for more than two decades, signed off on the bill Monday, according to a copy posted on the government’s legal information portal.

Putin proposed the change last year as part of constitutional reforms that Russians overwhelmingly backed in a vote in July. Lawmakers approved the bill last month.

The legislation will reset presidential term limits, allowing Putin to run in elections again after his current and second consecutive term expires in 2024.

Putin was first elected president in 2000 and served two consecutive four-year terms. His ally Dmitry Medvedev took his place in 2008, which critics saw as a way around Russia’s limit of two consecutive terms for presidents.

While in office, Medvedev signed off on legislation extending terms to six years starting with the next president.

Putin then returned to the Kremlin in 2012 and won re-election in 2018.

The term reset was part of constitutional reforms that included populist economic measures and sweeteners for traditionalists such as an effective ban on gay marriage.

Russians voted yes or no to the entire bundle of amendments in a vote last summer that was held over the course of a week, in a move authorities said was aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus but critics said left the process open to manipulation.

– ‘President for life’ –
Golos, an independent election monitor, criticised the format of the vote, saying Russians should have been able to vote for each separate change.

It also said it received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting multiple times.

Russians ultimately voted 78 percent in favour of the changes.

Kremlin opponents have said the constitutional reforms were a pretext to allow Putin to become “president for life”. Putin would be 83 or 84 when he leaves office if he is elected and serves two additional terms to their end in 2036.

“They really think that if they managed to deceive human laws, then they will be able to deceive the laws of nature,” opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman wrote on Twitter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.

 

The bill also includes new requirements for presidential candidates. They must now be at least 35 years old, have permanently resided in Russia for at least 25 years and have never had foreign citizenship or a permanent residence permit from a state other than Russia.

Also on Monday, Putin signed off on legislation banning insults against World War II veterans, with offenders facing possible sentences of up to three years in jail.

The new law comes after a judge in February ruled that jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny was guilty of defaming a World War II veteran.

The veteran was among a group of Russians Putin’s top domestic critic called “traitors” for appearing in a video supporting the constitutional reforms.

– ‘Will not leave on his own’ –
The new legislation also comes as authorities ratchet up pressure on the opposition and clamp down on dissent.

Navalny last week launched a hunger strike demanding adequate medical treatment in prison, saying he was experiencing severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

The 44-year-old opposition figure was arrested on his return to Russia in January, after spending months in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack last summer with the Novichok nerve agent that he blames on the Kremlin.

In February, Navalny was sentenced to a two-and-a-half year term in a penal colony for breaching the parole terms of a suspended sentence on old fraud charges.

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Ten of Navalny’s allies including key aide Lyubov Sobol and his brother Oleg remain in house arrest on charges of violating epidemiological measures during a Moscow protest demanding he be released.

Navalny’s team on Monday called upon his supporters to register in an online campaign preparing for protests to demand the Kremlin critic’s freedom, saying Putin “will not leave on his own”.

AFP

US Official Claims Putin Seeking To Stay In Power For Life

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on May 11, 2020. – President Vladimir Putin on May 11, 2020 said Russia’s non-working period imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted from May 12. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

A top US official said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to stay in power for life ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum.

Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun said both Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping “seem intent on putting themselves into office for life, or at least until they otherwise choose on their own initiative to leave.”

“In the Russian system, which has at least the trappings of a democratic system, President Putin will go to a referendum in just a couple of days which many consider to have a foregone conclusion,” Biegun, whose academic background is in Russia, told a forum of the German Marshall Fund.

Biegun said the goal of the referendum for the 67-year-old Putin was “the extension of his rule for what effectively is his natural life.”

Russians have already started early voting in the July 1 referendum which could keep Putin in power until 2036.

Putin has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999. Opposition campaigners including Alexei Navalny have also said that Putin is seeking to be president for life.

The Kremlin reluctantly postponed the referendum from its original date of April 22 due to a spurt in cases of COVID-19.

Biegun’s remarks come amid fresh tension between the United States and Russia over reports that a Russian spy unit put bounties on Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill US troops.

President Donald Trump has said he was not briefed on the intelligence and has sought a warmer relationship with Putin.

AFP

Anti-Racism Protests: Putin Condemns ‘Mayhem And Rioting’ In US

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on May 11, 2020. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday criticised anti-racism protests in the United States for sparking crowd violence, in his first comments on the issue.

“If this fight for natural rights, legal rights, turns into mayhem and rioting, I see nothing good for the country,” Putin said in an interview with Rossiya-1 television to be broadcast in full Sunday evening.

“We have never supported this,” he said.

The Russian leader stressed he supported black Americans’ struggle for equality, calling this “a long-standing problem of the United States”.

“We always in the USSR and in modern Russia had a lot of sympathy for the struggle of Afro-Americans for their natural rights,” he insisted.

But Putin added that “when — even after crimes are committed — this takes on elements of radical nationalism and extremism, nothing good will come of this.”

Putin also described the protests as a sign of “deep-seated internal crises” in the United States, linking the unrest to the coronavirus pandemic, which he said “has shone a spotlight on general problems”.

He said he nevertheless expected that the “fundamental basis of American democracy will allow the country to escape this series of crisis events”.

Asked about reactions to the US protests including demonstrations in Europe and statues being pulled down, Putin said “this is undoubtedly a destructive phenomenon”.

He suggested protesters wanted only Afro-American doctors to treat Afro-Americans and said this would be impossible in “multi-ethnic Russia”.

The interview was billed as Putin’s first since the start of the pandemic though it is not clear when it was recorded.

The president made his first public appearance at an open-air event in Moscow on Friday after weeks of lockdown at his country residence.

AFP