Joe Biden set for tough talks with ‘worthy adversary’ Vladimir Putin

American president says US will ‘respond in kind’ if Russia continues with cyberactivities

Joe Biden will hold his first meeting as US president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday, on the final stop of his week-long trip to Europe.

Mr Biden touched down in the Swiss city on Tuesday following the EU-US summit in Brussels, where he held talks with the presidents of the European Commission and European Council.

Geneva has been the location for two previous high-profile US-Russia meetings. President Dwight Eisenhower met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev there in 1955, while Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met there in 1985.

Both Mr Biden and Mr Putin said in the run-up to Wednesday's meeting that relations between Russia and the United States were at a low point.


Speaking ahead of the meeting following the Nato summit in Brussels on Monday, Mr Biden said he would not negotiate in public in advance, but he said: "I'm going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can co-operate, if he chooses. And if he chooses not to co-operate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind."

Noting that he has been “doing this a long time”, Mr Biden gave his take on the Russian leader. “He’s bright.  He’s tough. And I have found that he is – as they say, when you used to play ball – ‘a worthy adversary’.”

Mr Biden sparked controversy by describing Mr Putin as a “killer” in an interview in March, prompting Russia to recall its ambassador from Washington.

Topics for discussion

Wednesday's high-profile gathering – which officials say is not a "summit" – will begin around lunchtime. The two leaders will meet along with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state Antony Blinken. They will then be joined by officials for an expanded gathering.

Overall, the series of engagements is likely to last around five hours. Unlike President Donald Trump’s summit with Mr Putin in Helsinki three years ago, the two leaders will not hold a joint press conference, but will speak to the press separately at the conclusion of the meeting.

Mr Trump was widely criticised for taking the side of Russia over his own intelligence agencies at that summit by saying that he believed Mr Putin’s assurances that Moscow had not interfered in the US presidential election in 2016.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, a senior Biden administration official played down expectations of specific outcomes, warning that the US is “not expecting a big set of deliverables”.

Nonetheless, the two sides will discuss a range of issues, including the latest on nuclear disarmament; Russia's role as a cyber warfare actor, including US concerns that it is harbouring bad actors in the field of cyber-crime; and Russia's human rights abuses, including its treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan, Syria and the Iran nuclear deal will also be on the agenda, as well as the status of US citizens being held in Russia, including former US marine Trevor Reed.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

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