Biden says ‘I did what I came here to do’ at Geneva summit with Putin

(KEYSTONE / REUTERS POOL / Denis Balibouse)

The two presidents said the Geneva summit talks were "positive" and "constructive".

US President Joe Biden has said he achieved a lot during talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva today after a meeting during which the leaders discussed a range of issues including human rights, cyberattacks and rebuilding diplomatic relations between the two nations.

“The tone of our meetings was good, positive,” said the US President. “There wasn’t any strident action taken – where we disagreed we disagreed, but it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere.”

President Putin also told reporters the talks were “very constructive” and insisted there was no hostility between the two.

“I don’t think there was any kind of hostility,” Putin told reporters during a solo press conference following the event. He noted there were “divergent opinions” but that the two sides were determined to “understand each other.”

The first summit between the two presidents concluded earlier than expected after around four hours of talks. Although the meeting was expected to be frosty due to high tensions between Washington and Moscow, Putin insisted that the negotiations were “frank and candid” and praised Biden as an “experienced statesman” and a “balanced politician.”

In a separate press conference following the event, Biden told reporters: “I did what I came here to do,” and outlined that the pair had identified “areas of practical work” the two countries can cooperate on to advance their “mutual interests” and “benefit the world”.

However, although he stressed it was a positive meeting, he said he had made it clear the US will “respond to actions that impair our vital interests, or those of our allies” and that he had clearly laid out the US’ “priorities and our values.”

“I told Putin our agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It is for the American people,” Biden added.

Both leaders were questioned by reporters on a number of topics on the agenda including cyberattacks, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and human rights.

On cyberattacks, Putin said he and President Biden had agreed to “begin consultations” on cybersecurity following a spate of recent Russia-based attacks against major corporations in the US and elsewhere.

“We believe the sphere of cybersecurity is extremely important for the world in general — including for the United States, and for Russia to the same degree,” he said.

When questioned on whether he had outlined to Putin how his administration would respond to repeated cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, Biden told media: “I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it,” Biden said. “I pointed out, if they violate basic norms, we will respond.” He suggested Putin would adhere to his warnings. “I think the last thing he wants now is a cold war,” he told reporters.

Biden said he had emphasised the importance of human rights during the meeting – one of the key issues the US administration was expected to raise to Putin. “Human rights is always going to be on the table,” Biden said.

Responding to a question from reporters, Putin also said Biden “raised” the topic of human rights, but pushed back against criticism of Russia’s record, whilst hitting back at the US. The president mentioned gun violence in the US, air strikes in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay and argued the country had major problems in its own respect of human rights.

When questioned about his response to political opposition in Russia and his jailing of figures including Alexei Navalny, Putin equated his actions to the charges against the rioters who stormed Capitol Hill on January 6 following the US election results.

The Russian president claimed the “insurrectionists” had gone to the Capitol with “political demands” and were now facing long jail sentences for doing so, and said that Russia's stance on opposition figures was to stop the same insurrection in his own country.

In his later conference, Biden called the comparison “ridiculous” and said there was a major difference between storming the Capitol versus supporting free and fair elections.

Responding to a question on how the US would react if Navalny died in prison – where Putin has refused to guarantee his safety – Biden said: “I made it clear to him the consequences would be devastating for Russia.”

On Russian military intervention in Ukraine, another expected agenda item, the US president said he expressed “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Putin had said earlier he believed there was potential for agreement between the two countries on the situation in Ukraine.

On Russian military operations in the Arctic, Putin said that US concerns were “completely baseless” and that they weren't “doing anything new.”

In a seemingly positive step towards restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries, the pair have also agreed that their ambassadors will return to their respective posts and resume their diplomatic duties. Russian ambassador, Anatoly Antonov to the US and US ambassador, John Sullivan to Russia were both recalled from their posts in recent months due to heightened tensions between the two countries.

Putin also said the pair discussed exchanging prisoners on both sides and that there “could be some ground for compromise,” and said foreign ministers will work towards this. Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former US Marines, are currently imprisoned in Russia.

Biden downplayed the brevity of the meeting, which was expected to last five hours, and said both leaders felt satisfied with the discussion.