President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Geneva shortly before 7a.m. local time on Wednesday for their first meeting since Biden took office.
After a photo-op with Swiss President Guy Parmelin outside the Villa La Grange, the pair are expected to adjourn for a four to five hour bilateral meeting, which will be followed by solo press conferences.
The meeting comes after Biden spent days meeting with global leaders at the Group of Seven, NATO and U.S.-E.U. summits this week.
On Monday, Biden told reporters that Putin is “bright, he’s tough, and I’ve found that he is, as they say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.”
The discussion is expected to focus heavily on ransomware as Biden will highlight the United States’s plans to respond to continued state-directed hacks, an official reportedly told CNN. Though Biden has warned that if Russia continues its cyberattacks and other aggressive acts towards the U.S. “we will respond in kind,” he has also said he is hoping to find areas of cooperation with the Russian president.
Officials reportedly have modest expectations for the talks — they are not hopeful that any dramatic breakthroughs will occur. Instead, they are hoping to establish a baseline for relations between the new administration and Russian officials.
Biden is set to discuss potential areas of agreement, such as nuclear stability, as well as possibly returning ambassadors to Washington and Moscow after both countries have gone months without a senior diplomat, a senior administration official told the Associated Press.
He is hoping to begin to repair a relationship that he said Sunday is at a low point.
Biden is also focused on making progress on a new arms control agreement with Russia after he agreed to a five-year extension of the current agreement in January.
He is expected to raise concerns over Putin’s treatment of top Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested in January upon his return to Moscow from Germany. He spent five months in Berlin recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning widely believed to have been perpetrated by the Kremlin.
Officials have said they want Biden, the fifth straight American president to meet Putin, to be ready for the Russian president’s tactics, such as his habit of shifting conversations about Russia’s bad practices back on the U.S.
Biden has reportedly told aides that he believes Putin will respond to directness.
However, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday blasted Biden for deferring to Putin on his trip and making America weaker.
“I don’t care about charming Europe and thinking you’re one of them,” he said. “Biden is making our adversaries stronger. Russia is stronger today under a Biden administration than he was under the past administration. China is stronger today.”
The president is set to meet with Putin in two sessions: one smaller group and one with a larger contingent of aides. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are expected to participate in both meetings.
After the meeting, Biden has chosen to forgo a joint press conference with Putin, instead opting to speak to reporters on his own. While Russia reportedly urged the president to agree to a joint press conference during negotiations about the summit, the U.S. pushed back as officials did not want to give Putin a platform similar to the one he had after a summit with then-President Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Officials have also reportedly said they were concerned that Putin may try to appear as though he had gotten the better of Biden and did not want to see the presser turn into a tit-for-tat.
“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden said.