By Steve Holland and Vladimir Soldatkin
GENEVA (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin clash on Wednesday in their first meeting since Biden took office, with big disagreements likely and low expectations for any progress.
The two have said they hope their talks in a stately villa by Lake Geneva could lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds on everything from gun control and cyberattack to election interference and Ukraine.
“We do not expect a lot of results from this meeting,” a senior US official told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to Geneva, saying the two are expected to speak for four to five hours starting in the morning. 1 pm. (1100 GMT).
“I’m not sure any deal will be reached,” Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said.
Relations have deteriorated for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its intervention in Syria in 2015, and accusations by the United States, denied by Moscow, of its meddling in the 2016 elections that they brought Donald Trump to the White House.
They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “murderer,” prompting Russia to call its ambassador in Washington for consultations. The United States withdrew its ambassador in April. Neither of them has returned since.
The senior US official said the United States was targeting a set of “tasks” (Washington slang for assigning assistants to work on specific issues) “on areas where working together can advance our national interests and make the world safer.” .
Gun control is a domain in which progress has historically been possible despite broader agreements.
In February, Russia and the United States extended the New START treaty for five years, which limits their deployed strategic nuclear warheads and limits land and submarine missiles and bombers to launch them.
The senior US official said Biden would also define areas of vital national interest where Russian misconduct would bring a response. Biden signed an executive order in April giving Washington wide latitude to impose sanctions on Moscow.
Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat, told Reuters Putin wanted to have respectful relations and to be treated like members of the Soviet Politburo in the 1960s and 1980s, with “a symbolic recognition of Russia’s geopolitical parity with the United States.”
“In return, they (Moscow) would be willing to cut down on some of the crazy stuff,” Frolov said, saying he was referring to “no poisonings, no physical violence, no arrests / kidnappings of American and Russian citizens. No interference in the field. domestic politics “.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, set the bar low for Wednesday’s talks.
“The main conclusion, in the positive sense, of the Geneva meeting would be to make sure that the United States and Russia do not come to blows physically, so that a military collision is avoided,” he said.
In a sign of strained ties, the talks will not include meals and Putin and Biden are expected to hold separate press conferences rather than a joint one.
“There is no breaking of bread,” said the senior US official.
While troubles can be annoying, the setting will be serene when presidents gather at Villa La Grange, an elegant gray mansion set in a 30-hectare (nearly 75-acre) park overlooking Lake Geneva.
Unlike Trump, whose 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, Biden and Putin are not expected to have solo deals.
Side by side with Putin in Helsinki, Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 US elections, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of internal criticism.
On Wednesday, Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with interpreters, will meet before meeting with attendees for a larger session.