Biden and Putin hold high-stakes Geneva summit

By Peter Wilkinson, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Nick Thompson, Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 0841 GMT (1641 HKT) June 17, 2021
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10:00 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden calls US and Russia "two great powers" in appearance with Putin

From CNN's Kevin Liptak in Geneva

From left, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet at the Villa la Grange in Geneva on Wednesday.
From left, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet at the Villa la Grange in Geneva on Wednesday. Patrick Semansky/AP

US President Joe Biden’s remarks at the start of his summit with Vladimir Putin included describing the US and Russia as “two great powers,” a notable elevation of Moscow’s status as he works to create a more stable relationship.

In the past, the US has tried to downplay Moscow’s global role. Former President Obama once described Russia as a “regional power” after it invaded Ukraine.

The context of Biden’s remark wasn’t clear, because background noise made hearing his remarks almost impossible. But he was discussing broadly the importance of meeting face-to-face to establish a better working relationship.

Biden’s remarks during the photo-op were mostly obscured by jostling by the press. Putin’s remarks were more audible.

At one point, Biden seemed to ask Secretary of State Antony Blinken what was happening. Eventually he seemed to just stop speaking, aware he wasn’t being heard.

“I think it’s always better to meet face to face,” he said.

American reporters who were able to enter the meeting said they asked three questions of Biden and Putin in the spray. One asked Putin if he feared opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Another asked what he would do if Ukraine joined NATO. And another asked Biden if he trusted Putin.  

Biden seemed to nod and look down at his papers as the questions were being shouted; US officials said afterward he was not nodding in response to any particular question.

A scrum of reporters had gathered outside the summit site to try accessing the photo-op. Aides screamed at the group to settle itself, but photojournalists and reporters scuffled as they scrambled to get inside the Villa la Grange.

Reporters described frenzied moments inside the meeting room, with shouting and pushing, before reporters were pushed out. One reporter described being shoved to the ground in the fray. 

Read more about today's summit here.

4:27 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Chaotic scenes between competitive press corps unfold at summit's start 

A photographer blocks a TV camera during the media spray.
A photographer blocks a TV camera during the media spray. Pool

The highly-anticipated summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin has now started, but the media spray at the top of the meeting got off to an unusual start amid a chaotic scrum of reporters from both countries.

Reporters were seen blocking cameras while other people were talking as the two presidents were trying to give their opening remarks to each other. As a result, the situation got incredibly tense between the two traveling press corps from the US and Russia, according to CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Security personnel push the press out of the room after the media spray.
Security personnel push the press out of the room after the media spray. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Collins explained the "pool" is a media practice where one representative for every medium is permitted to go into the room for a spray at the top of a meeting. That, she said, is usually one person representing television, one person with a camera, a print reporter, one radio reporter and so forth — usually about 15 reporters in addition to photographers.

Collins reported she was told of some combative exchanges and that the full American press corps did not actually make it into the room for that top spray, which is thought to be the only access media would get from within Villa la Grange for the next few hours.

"We're told it started before they'd even actually made it into the building. There was pushing and shoving and yelling happening outside as all of these reporters were trying to get inside to go in and see these two leaders sitting down with one another, even though of course not all of [the reporters] are sanctioned to be there," Collins said.

The White House indicated that the scene inside the room was so chaotic that President Biden's communication was misunderstood by the press.

When a member of the US press pool asked the US President whether he trusted Putin, they wrote that Biden "looked me in the eye and nodded affirmatively."

But White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield pushed back on the claim, saying the Biden "was very clearly not responding to any one question," but simply nodding to acknowledge the press generally.

Watch Kaitlan Collins report on Biden and Putin's photo op:

Read more about today's summit here.

CNN's Maegan Vasquez and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed reporting to this post.

4:25 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden-Putin summit gets underway in Geneva

From CNN's Betsy Klein in Geneva and Sarah Dean

Pool
Pool

As the meeting got underway, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin were joined by their top diplomats, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the traveling press pool in attendance.

Putin thanked his US counterpart for "the initiative to meet" as the pair sat down ahead of their summit in Geneva on Wednesday.

I know you've been on a long journey and have a lot of work," Putin said.

"Still the US and Russia and US relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest level meeting and I hope that our meeting will be productive," he added.

Biden smiled once as Putin spoke, but the leaders were largely stone-faced. The two exchanged rare eye contact, but Putin largely looked down and was slouched in his chair.

Putin said, via translator, expressed hopes that the meeting will be “productive.”

Biden suggested they would work on areas of “mutual interest.”

Largely, however, the meeting was inaudible amid the clicks of cameras and jostling among reporters. One still photographer blocked the shot of multiple cameras for some time.

Biden looked down at some paper at one point. 

“Go away please,” a handler said to reporters as the spray concluded.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward said that with such a high-stakes summit such as this one, "everyone is pouring over the details of who looks like what and who's conceding and who's winning."

But she added, "It's really important for them now to be able to close the door on journalists and have a really serious and substantive conversation."

8:15 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Swiss president welcomes Putin and Biden to “city of peace”

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Swiss President Guy Parmelin welcomed US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin together to Geneva ahead of their high-stakes summit, wishing the two leaders a "fruitful dialogue."

"Mr. President of the Russian Federation, Mr. President of the United States of America, on behalf of the Swiss government, I would like to welcome you to Geneva, the city of peace. It is an honor and a pleasure for Switzerland to host you here for the summit, and in accordance with its tradition of good offices, promote dialogue and mutual understanding. I wish you both presidents a fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the world. Best wishes and good bye," Parmelin said in French.

The leaders listened as his remarks were translated. Putin and Biden then shook hands before entering the Villa La Grange.

4:23 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden and Putin take first photo and shake hands as high-stakes summit gets underway

From CNN's Kevin Liptak in Geneva

Pool
Pool

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin just took their first photo at the historic meeting at Villa la Grange in Geneva as the summit gets underway.

The two presidents stood outside the villa with the Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who made short remarks welcoming the two leaders. Parmelin said he wished the leaders a "fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the world."

Biden and Putin listened as his remarks were translated, first in Russian and then English. 

The Swiss leader bid them farewell, and Biden and Putin came together. 

They shook hands, looked at each other, and smiled. Putin turned toward the press and smiled some more, before turning around as the two presidents entered 18th century villa for their first round of meetings.

Both leaders have recently acknowledged a low point in relations between the two nations. 

Pool
Pool

7:42 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Why it's surprising Putin showed up on time

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Jeremy Diamond

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived on-time to his summit in Geneva with US President Joe Biden — a rare occurrence for a world leader who is notorious for arriving late to similar gatherings.

Putin is known for arriving late to important events — considered a power play by some observers. And that pattern of tardiness has extended to meetings with former American presidents.

For example, Putin set his last summit with a US president — alongside then-President Donald Trump — about 45 minutes behind schedule after his late arrival. And in 2009 and 2012, Putin showed up about 40 and 45 minutes late for his meetings with then-President Barack Obama.

He also kept German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych waiting about four hours each in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Even the Pope waited more than an hour for Putin to show up at the Vatican in 2015.

4:20 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden welcomed to high-stakes meeting

President Joe Biden is greeted to the summit site by Swiss President Guy Parmelin.
President Joe Biden is greeted to the summit site by Swiss President Guy Parmelin. Pool

Similarly to Putin's arrival, US President Joe Biden has just been welcomed to the summit site by the Swiss President, Guy Parmelin.

The pair also paused at the entrance to pose for photographers before heading inside.

We are expecting to see all three leaders reemerge to stand together and greet each other formally, CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward says.

7:20 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden en route to summit site

US President Joe Biden is traveling by motorcade to Villa La Grange, the site of his first face-to-face summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He is the fifth American president to have a meeting with the Russian leader. And it comes about the same time in his presidency as his predecessors opened dialogue with Putin.

4:19 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

President Putin arrives at summit site

Denise Balibouse/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Denise Balibouse/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian motorcade has delivered President Vladimir Putin and his delegation to Villa la Grange.

He was welcomed by Switzerland’s President Guy Parmelin on the mansion's steps where they posed briefly for photographers before heading inside, ahead of US President Joe Biden's arrival.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward described Putin as appearing "relaxed" and "jovial."