Biden and Putin hold ‘positive’ talks but tough words over Navalny

US president warns Russian leader of ‘devastating’ fallout if jailed activist dies

The US and Russia agreed to return ambassadors to their respective countries on Wednesday as US president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin described their high-stakes meeting in Geneva as “positive”.

But progress on other issues such as cybersecurity and human rights was pushed back to a later date, with the two countries agreeing to set up working groups to examine areas of co-operation.

Speaking after their three-hour meeting in the Swiss city, Mr Biden said that he had done what he had come to do – identify practical work both countries can do to advance mutual interests and warn that the US would respond to actions “that impair our vital interests or those of our allies”.

“This is about practical, straightforward, no-nonsense decisions … we’ll find out within the next six months to a year if we have an actual strategic dialogue that works,” Mr Biden said in his post-summit press conference, as he wrapped up his week-long trip to Europe.


The US president, who as recently as March had described Mr Putin as a “killer”, said he had raised human rights issues with the Russian leader, warning that the consequences would be “devastating for Russia” if opposition figure Alexei Navalny dies in prison. But Mr Putin in his own press conference – without naming Navalny directly – said that the 45-year-old had wanted to break the law, showing few signs that the treatment of Navalny would be reassessed.

Asked about his strategy of imprisoning political rivals, Mr Putin compared it to the arrest of US citizens who participated in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol.

Mr Biden later described the comparison as “ridiculous”.

Both men said Russia and the US shared a responsibility for nuclear stability, and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New Start arms limitation treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy.

On cybercrime – a key priority for the US following recent ransomware attacks, including on the 5,500 mile-long Colonial Pipeline – Mr Putin denied that Russia had played a role and instead blamed the US for cyberattacks.

But Mr Biden warned after the meeting that Russia would face consequences. “We have significant cyber capability and he knows it, and if they violate these basic norms we will respond.”

Speaking as he boarded Air Force One on Wednesday night to return to Washington, Mr Biden said that he felt positive about the series of meetings he had held in Europe. “We as a country have put a different face about where we’ve been and where we’re going,” he said, adding of the G7, Nato and EU leaders: “They’re glad America’s back and they acted that way.” – Additional reporting: Reuters

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent