A good start for a meeting supposed to ease tensions between the two countries.
Vladimir Poutine and Joe Biden met this Wednesday in Geneva for their first summit.
True to his personality, the American president was the first to turn to his Russian counterpart and extended his hand to him.
Vladimir Putin squeezed it briefly, before the two men entered the beautiful 18th century building which will host their discussions.
"I hope our meeting will be productive," said the Russian president, thanking Joe Biden for taking the initiative for the meeting.
Man of contact, Joe Biden underlined that "it is always better to meet face-to-face".
The two men had arrived a few minutes apart, greeted by Swiss President Guy Parmelin who wished them good luck.
"We will respond if Russia continues its activities"
Despite this gesture - which has become rare in the midst of the Covid pandemic - the discussions promise to be bitter and tense. The 46th American President has adopted a resolutely firm tone in recent days towards the strongman of the Kremlin to better mark the contrast with the procrastination and ambiguities of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Joe Biden has promised to tell Vladimir Putin what “his red lines” are. "We are not looking for a conflict with Russia, but we will respond if Russia continues its activities," he said Monday at the end of the NATO summit in Brussels.
Almost five months after coming to power, Joe Biden is playing big.
Even though the White House has repeatedly stressed that no spectacular breakthrough should be expected, the 78-year-old president knows he has the opportunity to polish his image as a fine negotiator in Geneva.
The city has already hosted the first face-to-face meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, which marked the beginning of the thaw of the Cold War.
Putin already has a long experience
"I am always ready", replied Tuesday on his arrival the American president, questioned on his state of mind before this meeting scrutinized with attention throughout the world.
The Russian president can rely on a long experience: he has already rubbed shoulders with four other American presidents since coming to power at the end of 1999. Many experts agree that he has already obtained what he most wanted: the holding the summit as an illustration of the importance of Russia on the world stage.
In an interview with the American channel NBC, he said he hoped that the Democratic president was less impulsive than his Republican predecessor.
But he also took the opportunity to underline how much Donald Trump was, according to him, a "talented" man.
"Prevent further deterioration of bilateral relations"
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov, who will take part in the Russian-American discussions in the enlarged format, summed up Moscow's position: “The Russian side has done everything possible to ensure that the summit is positive and is crowned with results which will allow to prevent further deterioration of bilateral relations, ”in a statement to the RIA Novosti news agency.
The talks are expected to last between four and five hours, but the two have no plans to eat together.
At most they will have refreshments, coffee and tea delivered by the restaurant next door.
On the program: a meeting in a reduced format (the American and Russian presidents as well as the American and Russian heads of diplomacy, Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov), before an enlarged working session.
Sign of a certain tension, all the practical details were carefully negotiated - the furniture, the coffee breaks, the headphones - and this until the last minute, admits a person in charge of the protocol of the city on the public radio.
Each delegation has the same number of rooms and square meters.
“Fortunately the Villa is perfectly symmetrical,” explains Marion Bordier Büschi.
"We have been accused of all kinds of things"
The only point of convergence between the White House and the Kremlin: relations between the two countries are at their lowest.
For the rest, the subjects of contention are numerous and the discussions promise to be difficult, in particular on Ukraine and Belarus.
One of the most sensitive issues is that of online disinformation and computer attacks.
Beyond the attempted interference in the 2016 election for the benefit of Donald Trump, massive cyber attacks have recently annoyed Washington.
SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, JBS: so many operations attributed to Moscow, or to groups of hackers based in Russia.
Russia, which has always denied, accuses Washington of interfering in its affairs by supporting the opposition or by funding organizations and media critical of the Kremlin.
"We have been accused of all kinds of things" but "not once have they bothered to produce any evidence," said the Russian president this week.
Demonstration in support of Navalny
The city is under high security and several wheeled armored vehicles patrol the almost deserted streets despite the splendid weather. A demonstration in support of the opponent Alexeï Navalny, now imprisoned after nearly dying of poisoning which he accuses the Kremlin of having fomented, attracted only a handful of people on Tuesday.
Tuesday, from Brussels, Joe Biden had issued a very clear warning about the famous opponent.
Navalny's death "would be a tragedy," he said.
“It would only deteriorate relations with the rest of the world.
And with me ".
In this context, expectations, in Washington as elsewhere, are limited.
“The Geneva summit is not about a new start or a spectacular breakthrough.
It's about trying to better manage a difficult relationship that will remain so for a while, ”said Steven Pifer of the Brookings think tank.
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