When US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin gathered for their highly-anticipated summit in Geneva today, it came at a moment that both leaders say is a low point for relations between their two countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a joint press conference following the summit is likely not in the cards.
The summit comes some six months after the start of Biden’s tenure in office, offering him the chance to set the tone for relations with the Russian leader in person following a contentious start to their relationship.
Wednesday’s private meetings grant the President, who has sometimes stumbled in his messaging while in front of the press, the opportunity to confront Putin directly and without cameras.
Later, Biden will be able to deliver his own message to reporters about the talks without the pressure of speaking alongside an adversary. Instead of potentially facing the press with dueling messages about US-Russia relations, Biden and Putin will hold solo press conferences following the summit.
The decision to not hold a joint press conference was something for which White House officials had pushed. Officials have said Russia pushed for a joint press conference during negotiations about the summit. But the US resisted because they did not want to give Putin a platform like he had after a 2018 summit with former President Trump in Helsinki.
Officials said they were mindful of Putin’s desire to appear like he’d gotten the better of a US president, and wanted to avoid a situation that devolved into a tit-for-tat playing out in public.
The decision also comes at the advice of a group of Russia experts who met with the President earlier this month, according to sources familiar with the discussion.
“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden said on Sunday, explaining the decision.
The US-Russia talks are expected to take place at a lakeside villa in Switzerland and last around five hours or longer, according to a US official. Despite their lengthy agenda, the leaders are not expected to break bread.
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