Experts say it will take several months to assess the impact of the Geneva summit.
There was no talk at the summit in Geneva about trying to get a look into Vladimir Putin’s “soul” as George W. Bush did.
And the Russian president did not try to manipulate the American leader at the beginning of his term.
Instead, Putin’s first summit with Joe Biden, the fifth U.S. president during his time in the Kremlin, was about mutual respect, and a meeting in Geneva could, they say, lead to a more predictable, though still strained, relationship.
Unlike his predecessors, Biden has made no indication that he expects a reset. He has already pressed Russia on issues such as alleged election interference, cybercrime attacks, and the poisoning and imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny.
After previously agreeing with Biden’s characterization of Putin as a “murderer,” the U.S. president called the Russian leader a “worthy adversary” on the eve of the summit and said at a press conference after the meeting that they would see where they had common interests.
Putin called Biden a “very experienced” politician, one of those with whom a detailed, very constructive dialogue can be conducted.
“Biden as a whole is someone who wants a constructive relationship. He doesn’t consider Putin his friend,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm.
Similar to his attitude toward Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden “doesn’t trust Putin, but he expects Russia to act in its interests and that the two countries have some interests that overlap and that’s where we should work together,” Bremmer said.
A test of the relationship will come later, Bremmer said.
“I want to see significantly fewer ransomware incidents in the next three months and nothing on a scale comparable to the Colonial Pipeline attack that came out of Russia,” he added. This is extremely important.”
At the press conference, Putin made no promises regarding cybercrime, apparently denying Russian involvement, but Biden made it clear that he had issued a warning, saying that Putin “knows” that Russia’s actions would have consequences.
The two leaders said they would return ambassadors to each other’s capitals and that diplomats would work to release prisoners.
“I’m not sure how much better it could have been, but it could have been much worse. There could have been personality shifts, posturing, pontificating, talking when one interlocutor can’t hear the other,” said Yuval Weber, a Russia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kenan Institute.
According to Weber, Biden and Putin were not counting on breakthroughs in Geneva
“They were interested in whether they could get along well enough with each other in a face-to-face meeting to then keep the conversation going,” Weber said.
According to Weber, Putin is known to be “a very touchy person,” who probably felt uncomfortable after Biden’s first comments about him.
By calling Putin a “worthy adversary” and referring to Russia as a powerful country, Biden is following a strategy of “saying things that Putin can then grasp at,” Weber said.
Republicans were quick to lash out at Biden with criticism, saying he should have been more confrontational.
“The point of summits is to get results,” said Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To learn that no tangible progress has been made on any issue with Russia is unfortunate and disappointing.”
However, committee head Senator Bob Menendez praised Biden for “telling the truth to Putin directly.”
“It was a welcome departure from the last four years of Trump pandering to the Kremlin,” Menendez said.