NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner discuss how Russia is covering the Biden-Putin summit and how Putin can circumvent accusations of cyberattacks and human rights violations.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
I’m Mary Louise Kelly in Geneva, where some cool street art just popped up. Right in front of me is a large mural of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s imprisoned rival. He is smiling. And next to him in French is written (speaking in French): the hero of our time. Now if this sounds familiar, it’s because it looks very, very similar to the graffiti that appeared in St. Petersburg in Russia in April. That one was painted in a matter of hours, big yellow paint by the workers who were called in.
This graffiti is part of the welcome that will be waiting for Putin when he arrives in Geneva tomorrow. Here’s another part.
KELLY: Across town, in a large grassy park, dozens of Russian expats came out tonight waving anti-Putin banners. They say things like stop torture and return Crimea.
MAXIM KRUGOFF: They scream, Putin is a thief.
KELLY: In the crowd, we meet two graduate students, Maxim Krugoff (ph) and Irina Creyen (ph), both born in Russia, where Putin has been in power for most of his life.
IRINA BELIEVE: The first time, when I was 7 years old, Putin was already present.
KRUGOFF: He was 3 years old when he was first elected. And it never really left.
KELLY: They both say things have gotten worse in Russia since they arrived in Switzerland, and they worry that Biden’s summit with Putin won’t help at all.
BELIEVE: And, you know, for Biden to meet Putin, in my opinion, is kind of an empowerment because he considers it legitimate while Putin is killing people. And, you know, I’m sure Biden wouldn’t raise any of those concerns. Putin will just say, yes, yes, you know, it just isn’t true. And that will be the end, you know.
KELLY: On the other side of the protest, we found Dmitry Lihanev (ph). He is 29 years old, a Russian citizen, he came here to Geneva for work. He says he loves his country, his family is there, his story is there. But he says that the current government has let the people down, and that is why he says that he is protesting tonight.
DMITRY LIHANEV: Well, I suppose I am here simply because I want to have the opportunity in the future to return to my country.
KELLY: Lihanev says he’s hopeful that Biden can pressure Putin on human rights. Better than under Trump, he says.
LIHANEV: There is at least one person in power who can communicate and express his political views towards Russia in a more coherent way. With Trump, it was not so clear.
KELLY: Well, we wanted to know how this summit is going inside Russia, so we have called Vladimir Pozner, one of the Russian journalists who will be following the talks. Hello welcome.
VLADIMIR POZNER: Well, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.
KELLY: Well let me start by asking, how closely is this summit being watched in Russia? How important is this?
POZNER: It is something very important. It is being watched by the entire nation. He’s on television a lot. And it’s something people talk about when they sit down to dinner. It is a very important issue because, for most Russians, the relationship with the United States has always been and continues to be important.
KELLY: The agenda – the biggest thing on America’s agenda, I think it’s fair to say, is cyber-attacks and hacking. What is the main topic on Russia’s agenda?
POZNER: Lower the level of animosity that clearly exists, lower the tension between the two countries.
KELLY: Really? Because it seems that President Putin is doing everything he can to increase tension in the run-up to the summit.
POZNER: Well, it really depends on how you look at it. If you are going to speak to President Putin from a position of strength, if you are going to tell him this is what to do, then it is useless. This is not a man who will bow or bow under any kind of pressure. It really depends on whether there is a mutual desire to somehow get out of the enigma that we find ourselves in on both sides.
This relationship is not good for anyone. It is not good for Russia, it is not good for the United States. And sometimes, there has even been a little smell of gunpowder, and I mean gunpowder. And I think that Russia’s main wish is to somehow reduce the tension, but no one, including President Biden, will tell you or tell you what to do.
KELLY: President Putin gave an interview to NBC News in the run-up to the summit. Asked about hacking against the United States, and he said this.
(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through an interpreter) Where is the evidence? Where is the proof? It is becoming a sham.
KELLY: We have been accused of all kinds of things: electoral interference, cyberattacks, etc. And then he said, not once, not once, not once did they bother to present any kind of evidence or proof. Vladimir Pozner, how do Biden and Putin manage to stop talking about this and other issues? Biden says stop piracy, Putin says stop what? We are not doing anything.
POZNER: Well that’s probably the $ 64,000 question because they’ve been talking to each other instead of to each other. And the Russian side has firmly said, look, if you have proof, present it. Make it public. Show us and the rest of the world that we have, in fact, been involved in piracy and that this has been under the command of President Putin. If you can do that, that’s fine. If you don’t, how can you accuse us of it? Which seems like a logical way of doing things. So this somehow has to be resolved.
KELLY: I imagine US intelligence would say, if we show you the proof, maybe you can find out how we got it. And it will ruin our sources and methods to keep trying to figure out what you’re doing.
I mentioned Alexei Navalny and street art here in Geneva. Navalny, of course, is in prison. And Biden is expected to speak on that, to give a kind of lecture tomorrow on human rights, on respecting his political opponents. How will that conference be received?
POZNER: I don’t think it is greeted with any kind of pleasure, to say the least. Personally, I consider the treatment of Alexei Navalny by the Russian powers to be unacceptable. I am totally against it. And I’m not in jail, how do I say that, how can you hear.
KELLY: Yes, happily.
POZNER: Okay. Yes. He is probably the only opposition figure of real weight in Russia. And the fact that he’s in jail and he’s been sentenced to … what is it? – Three years in prison is in my opinion a sham that I do not accept.
KELLY: But Vladimir Putin is likely to counter these comments, this Joe Biden lecture, with what, pointing to the Americans’ own political challenges?
POZNER: Well, that’s what they always do, right? You know, you do this, yeah, but you do that. It all goes back to, whoa, what are you doing in Afghanistan? What were you doing in Vietnam? I don’t think lecturing one or the other is a particularly productive way of approaching the situation. I think you have to do it to make it clear at home that you’ve been tough, but it doesn’t really help.
KELLY: So what are you waiting for?
POZNER: I’m waiting for a decision that we can and should work together on certain key issues: climate change, first and foremost. No. 2, tell the State Department and tell the Russian Foreign Ministry to start talking to each other because they haven’t been doing it for years. The very fact that President Biden and President Putin are meeting is in itself a positive thing. And I think you know as well as I do that there were not a few people on both sides who were and are against these kinds of meetings.
KELLY: Vladimir Pozner. He is the host of the television program “Pozner” distributed on Channel One of Russia. Thanks.
POZNER: Thank you very much.
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