Despite Low Expectations, Kremlin Calls Outcomes of Putin-Biden Summit ‘Rather Positive’

by Aleksandra Serebriakova
Jun 17, 2021

On 16 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden met in Geneva to discuss a number of biletaral issues, including cybersecurity, Ukraine and arms control. The two evaluated the meeting as being “good”.

Russia and the US “naturally” have different positions when it comes to Belarus, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told Russian media on Thursday.

“It was stated that this is an issue where, probably, it is not very necessary to bring these positions closer together – this is impossible,” the spokesman noted.

Meanwhile, Peskov added that the situation in Belarus concerning protests and the recent Ryanair incident, when the plane carrying blogger Roman Protasevich, designated as an extremist in Belarus, made an emergency landing in Minsk over a bomb threat, was not a “priority” during the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva. Protasevich and his companion, Russian national Sofia Sapega, were arrested during the stopover in Minsk.

The Meeting’s Vibe and Cybersecurity

In general, Moscow is now assesing the summit between the two presidents that took place at Villa La Grange on 16 June as “rather positive”, despite previously warning about inflated expectations about the meeting, Peskov said.

US President Biden also said following the summit that the talks had been carried out in a “positive” manner, while Putin described his counterpart as being a “constructive dialogue partner” with “moral values”.

Meanwhile, the two sides did not reach any agreements on cybersecurity, Peskov told Russian radio station ‘Echo of Moscow’, while agreeing that this topic was worth talking about.

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“Agreements have not been reached, and agreements could not be reached, as no one set such tasks in the first place. With regards to cybersecurity, there is an understanding that it needs to be discussed. This is extremely important,” Peskov said.

The “positive” note was that the US was not blaming Moscow for the recent cyberattacks, the spokesman added.

“On the eve of the summit and during the summit, it was emphasised that no one blames the Russian government, and no accusations were made against the Russian side. This is very important. We can state that we have a very positive take on that,” Peskov added.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had previously blamed a cyber-criminal group operating from Russia for being behind a ransomware attack against the US meat processing company JBS. The media reports and comments from the White House that followed the attack suggested that Moscow hadn’t done its best to stop the group.

According to Peskov, the two sides were planing to trigger a mechanism for an expert dialogue on cybersecurity issues that will cover “the attacks, and the overall threat level, and all the naming of critical infrastructure.”

Exchange of Prisoners

Prior to the highly-anticipated meeting, there were various speculations that Russia and the US may exchange prisoners, including US nationals Trevor Reed, arrested in 2019 following a drunken brawl with Russian police officers, and Paul Whelan, who was charged with espionage in December 2018.

The Kremlin press secretary said that the topic was dicussed during the summit, as Russia is also seeking to retrieve Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko from the US prison, but lists of potential prisoners were not compared.

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“Of course, no one compared lists. Presidents usually have a framework, consensual conversations. They touched upon this topic. President Putin confirmed this at the press conference, he said we can work on it,” Peskov revealed. At the same time, no deadlines on the subject can exist, he added.

Arms Control, Iran and Syria

Putin and Biden signed a joint statement on the issue of strategic stability as a result of the summit, saying the two nuclear superpowers bear “a special responsibility” for the world’s peace.

“The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” the joint statement reads.

The presidents also discussed the importance of Russian-US military dialogue in relation to Syria, that has been fighting a civil war since 2011.

“It is stated that despite the very difficult period in our bilateral relations, our military still manage to maintain a dialogue there, which is extremely important from the point of view of deconfliction,” Peskov argued, adding that the cooperation on the issue was important “from the point of view of security, taking into consideration that the military forces of two countries are deployed to the same location”.

The two nations need to talk about stability and arms control as soon as possible, the spokesman added, while revealing that during a narrow-talk format, Putin and Biden also discussed the issue of Iran and the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran deal).

“There are some preliminary outlines,” Peskov unveiled, expressing hope that the deal will be restored, following the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, which effectively killed it.

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Peskov also confirmed that Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov, who had returned to Moscow in April for consultations, is likely to go back to Washington “in the coming days”. Putin and Biden said after the summit that their respective envoys to the countries, Antonov and his counterpart John J. Sullivan, will soon return to their posts. Sullivan left Moscow in April following a diplomatic spat between the two administrations. According to Putin, the “issue has been resolved” during the summit.

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