Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to Geneva, Switzerland, not merely to appear on the same platform as US President Joe Biden, but because “the poor state of relations” between both countries demands a summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday.
“The main reason for him [to go] is the poor state of the relationship between our two countries. And a critical level of this relationship that demands a summit between our two countries because this is the only way … to prevent further degradation of our dialogue,” Peskov told CNN.
Next week’s high-stakes summit in Geneva comes as relations between both nations hit recent new lows in the first few months of the Biden administration.
The US announced sweeping sanctions in April, punishing Moscow for its interference in the 2020 US election, its ongoing occupation and “severe human rights abuses” in Crimea, and the SolarWinds cyberattack – one of the worst data breaches to ever hit the US government.
Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov was recalled from Washington after Biden called Putin a killer in March. US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
Biden told a hangar of US troops on Wednesday he was in Europe to defend the very concept of democracy and warned his Russian counterpart that he planned to raise touchy issues during their chat. “I’m headed to the G7, then to the NATO ministerial and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know,” Biden said.
This is why the summit will be “a very good opportunity” to air both countries’ concerns, Peskov said Friday.
He also accused the US of freezing dialogue between the two countries over the past five to seven years “in all the fields, including the vital fields for both our people and even for humankind, like [the] fight with terror [attacks], with climate change, economic cooperation, cooperation in vaccines, in the pandemic … they refuse to cooperate with us in combating digital crime, and so on and so forth.”
As to reports that there would be no joint press conference at the end of the Biden-Putin summit, Peskov told CNN that Russia was not expecting one. However, the Kremlin said negotiations are continuing on the final format.
“We heard about such a possibility from our American counterparts, but we are still waiting for final confirmation, but since the very beginning President Putin has been open to any alternatives,” Peskov said.
Peskov added that Putin was ready to participate in a joint press conference or hold one of his own in Geneva.
One touchy issue that Biden may hope to raise is that of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, who was imprisoned earlier this year for allegedly violating the probation terms of a 2014 case.
However, Peskov told CNN that Putin was not planning to engage with Biden on the subject of Navalny – to whom Putin never refers by name.
Asked if Putin planned not to back down on the issue if it is broached at Wednesday’s summit, the Kremlin spokesman said: “Well, there is nothing to discuss about it. There is nothing to discuss about this gentleman. He’s in prison, and he is not a subject for the agenda of our bilateral relations.”
A Moscow court on Wednesday ruled that two organizations linked to Navalny are “extremist” groups – forcing them to shut down and rendering their members ineligible to run in upcoming elections. Both groups deny the charge of extremism.
For Biden, the aim of the Geneva summit is to facilitate a more stable and predictable diplomatic relationship with Russia.
But his administration has low expectations for the meeting, and has tempered suggestions that the US and Russia would come away from the meeting with any groundbreaking agreements.
“We don’t think of US-Russia summits in terms of deliverables,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week. “We are thinking of it as an opportunity to communicate what our intentions and capabilities are.”
The conversation next Wednesday will likely be fraught for both leaders, with the agenda expected to include cyber-attacks, human rights violations, and Russia’s actions in Ukraine, according to US officials.
Biden initially proposed the summit with the Russian President in April during a telephone call, and the two sides have been working to finalize details since.
Despite deteriorating relations between the two countries on issues like Ukraine and election interference, Biden hopes to establish a clear channel of communication that would avoid undue surprises.
Their meeting will mark an end to Biden’s first trip abroad as US President, beginning with the Group of Seven summit at a seaside resort in Cornwall, UK. After the G7 wraps Sunday, Biden heads to Brussels for the NATO summit followed by his meeting with Putin.