'No Breaking of Bread' During Biden-Putin Meeting

What to expect at their Geneva summit
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2021 1:16 AM CDT
Updated Jun 16, 2021 6:59 AM CDT
It's Almost Biden-Putin Meeting Time
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

The day has arrived: US President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland, kicking off what's expected to be a four- or five-hour meeting—or even longer, the New York Times reports. But there will be "no breaking of bread," as no meal is planned, a senior administration official tells the newspaper. That, according to the Times, marks a distinct change from Putin's more casual, "chummy" sit-downs with former President Trump. Here's what's making headlines in the hours leading up to the summit:

  • What will be discussed: There may not be bread on the table, but nothing else is off the table, according to the official who spoke to the Times. Biden will confront Putin about Russia protecting cybercriminal groups in the country, and will bring up recent ransomware attacks directed toward the US and discuss what he will do if such attacks keep coming out of Russia. Also expected to come up, per ABC News and CNBC: opposition leader Alexei Navalny's detention and human rights issues in general; arms control, nuclear stability, and the future of the US-Russia New START Treaty; climate change; US and Russian nationals imprisoned in each other's countries; and Ukraine.

  • What the end result could be: Per the unnamed official who spoke to NYT, the Biden administration is "not expecting a big set of deliverables." A Kremlin aide cited by CNBC also said he's not certain any agreements will be reached. Experts doubt any breakthroughs or "concrete outcomes," as one puts it. Another says what is hoped for is a "return to 'predictable strategic stability,'" or, as yet another puts it, a "framework for future ties." Russia, for example, may remove the US from its list of "unfriendly states," which would normalize diplomatic relations.
  • What each side wants: The AP delves into that question here. For Biden, that's "to move toward a more predictable relationship and attempt to rein in Russia’s disruptive behavior," like election meddling. For Putin, it's "to draw his red lines for the new US administration and negotiate a tense status quo that would protect Moscow’s vital interests," a main red line being Ukraine's desire to join NATO.
  • Where they might compromise: Reuters explores that question here. One area: cyber criminals. Putin has indicated a willingness to hand over suspects if the US will do the same. Both sides also want to see progress in their diplomatic ties. CBS News also looks at the question of what might be accomplished, and notes that a prisoner swap could be on the table.
  • "Teeming with spies": NPR spoke to a longtime CIA veteran who said Geneva is "crawling with spies" at the moment. The intelligence agents are looking for information on things like what Putin is willing to leverage in a prisoner exchange; what his line will be when it comes to "Havana syndrome," which Russia is thought to be behind; and whether Moscow is ordering cyberattacks on US targets. As for whether hotel and meeting rooms might be bugged, "I always assumed that hotel rooms had listening devices," he says.
  • The details: Per the Times, Biden and Putin will first greet Swiss President Guy Parmelin before sitting down together in a meeting also including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Other aides will join in later, and reporters and photographers will be allowed in for a time.
(More President Biden stories.)

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