Putin Sucks Up to Biden: There’s a ‘Spark of Hope in His Eyes’
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast
LONDON - There is only one thing President Biden loves more than ice cream - and that is his Aviator trademark. So you know that when he presented President Putin with matching sunglasses, he was really trying to improve relations with Russia.
Putin reveled in his lead role in Biden's first international trip, which culminated in a free-running press conference that went on and on, with Putin thinking about philosophy and even threatening to break into song at some point.
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In the run-up to the summit, Russian media stressed that it was Biden who asked Putin to meet in Geneva. In other words, it was the American who brought Russia back into focus.
Indeed, the first words Putin said to Biden were, “Mr. Mr President, I would like to thank you for your initiative to meet today. "
He repeated the same line during a long and rambling press conference praising Biden as an "experienced" and focused statesman.
Putin has reason to be happy. Even President Trump did not agree to meet him in person 18 months before his term in office. Biden also called Putin within a week of moving into the White House.
After the economic and political ruin following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the driving force behind the entire Presidency of Putin has helped Russia regain global importance.
Biden has played along, hoping that showing respect can ease tensions with Russia at a time when he is trying to focus on the growing threat from China. He told Putin on Wednesday as they folded their hands in front of the world's media that "it is always better to meet face-to-face".
The US President seemed to be looking Putin straight in the eye as the men shook hands. The Russian President looked away at first and waved to the press pool before both men disappeared into the Villa Parc de la Grange, a stunning 18th-century castle.
Reuters / Kevin Lamarque
They talked for about three hours before reappearing for separate press conferences.
In his hour-long Q&A, Putin spoke warmly of Biden, praising his intellectual rigor and claiming that there is growing trust between the men.
“There is no happiness in life. There is only the mirage of happiness, ”Putin said. "But I think there's a glimmer of hope in his eyes."
He said the talks were "constructive" and good-natured. "I don't think there was any kind of hostility," he said.
While not saying a single word to criticize Biden, Putin managed to hold the US responsible for the state of relations between the two countries, reiterating his age-old claim that American supporters are funding the grassroots opposition movement against him in Russia and heat up.
When Biden came out for his own press conference, he was firmer and said he had set the "road rules" but he would not be drawn into personal criticism of Putin.
He said the two men "share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries, a relationship that must be stable and predictable".
When a reporter asked Biden, while he was leaving, why he was so confident that Putin's behavior would change after the warmth of the meeting, he raised his voice for the first time: “What the hell? ... was confident? ... I only establish facts. "
He's not vouching for Putin, just hoping to silence him.
Moscow signaled ahead of the meeting that potential prisoner swaps were one of its top priorities. A Kremlin insider told The Daily Beast that Putin would be willing to release Paul Whelan, an American civilian who was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage, in exchange for a senior Russian inmate in the U.S. like Victor Bout, an arms dealer who is known as the "merchant of death".
Putin confirmed that he had discussed the issue with Biden and said, "We may find a compromise there." The two leaders also agreed to hold further talks on cybersecurity and nuclear restrictions.
Putin's prison swap offer could free this imprisoned American
The summit with Putin was the final stage in Biden's stormy reintroduction into international diplomacy.
Before the trip, the White House went out of its way to point out that this week's mission on the street was simply to tell the world that the US was back after the Trump presidency lost its way, but that wasn't the full picture.
Apparently, Biden has tried every step of the way to increase the pressure on Beijing. It is now clear that the real goal of a diplomatic hot move that stretched from the G7 to NATO and the EU was to remind President Xi Jinping that not only is the US back on the world stage - they are back with more powerful allies than China could ever muster.
Putin is far from an ally, but Biden has managed to sweeten his relationship with Putin just long enough to turn his full attention to China.
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In this article:
President of Russia
46th President of the United States
45th President of the United States
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