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 and Putin's political experience means there's "no illusions" they'll be friends, expert says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Mikhail Metzel/TASS/Getty Images
Mikhail Metzel/TASS/Getty Images

The Biden-Putin summit is about “stabilizing and bringing more predictability” to the US-Russia relations, and there are “no illusions that these guys are going to be friends,” Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute’s Director Matthew Rojansky says.

“President Biden has set appropriately low expectations in terms of not ending this meeting with a big handshake and a signing ceremony and a joint press conference,” he said. “This will be very much about stabilizing and bringing more predictability to the relationship. The administration has used the term ‘guardrails on escalatory behavior.’”

Biden is expected to bring up many critical issues, such as election interference and cyber security, which are going to be difficult. But there could be some interest in seeking common ground on nuclear stabilities and arms control.

The political experience that both the Presidents bring to the table is recognized on both sides, Rojansky says.

“There's this notion there's no illusions that these guys are going to be friends. None of this pretend, hail hello, slapping each other on the back,” he said.

“It’s, at best, mutual respect and mutual deterrence,” he added.

The goal of this meeting is to create conditions where Russia has a stake in dialogue with the US, Rojansky explains.

“Maybe If Russia has a stake in that dialogue going forward, some of the unpredictable, provocative, aggressive behavior can be dialed back. Because in a sense Putin is getting the engagement that he's looking for.”

9:50 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

First Putin-Biden meeting of summit is over, White House official says

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Geneva

The first, smaller meeting between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin ended about 10 minutes ago, meaning they spent just under two hours together.

The first session started at 1:44 p.m. local and wrapped at 3:17 p.m. local, for a total of 93 minutes. The first meeting was on the schedule for 1 hour 20 minutes, so it went only slightly over schedule.

The larger meeting is now underway, a White House official says.

9:54 a.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden wasn't indicating he trusts Putin, White House says

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Geneva

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden wasn’t indicating he trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin when he nodded in response to a reporter’s shouted question, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.

"During a chaotic free for all with members of the press shouting questions over each other, the President gave a general head nod in the direction of the media. He wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos," Psaki said.

According to pool reports from a photo-op of Biden and Putin ahead of their meeting, Biden was asked if he could trust the Russian leader. The reporter said Biden “looked me in the eye and nodded affirmatively.”

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield earlier tweeted in response, “It was a chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other. @POTUS was very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally. He said just two days ago in his presser: ‘verify, then trust.’ “

4:29 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden and Putin won't hold a joint press conference today. Here's why.

 From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

When US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin gathered for their highly-anticipated summit in Geneva today, it came at a moment that both leaders say is a low point for relations between their two countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a joint press conference following the summit is likely not in the cards.

The summit comes some six months after the start of Biden's tenure in office, offering him the chance to set the tone for relations with the Russian leader in person following a contentious start to their relationship.

Wednesday's private meetings grant the President, who has sometimes stumbled in his messaging while in front of the press, the opportunity to confront Putin directly and without cameras.

Later, Biden will be able to deliver his own message to reporters about the talks without the pressure of speaking alongside an adversary. Instead of potentially facing the press with dueling messages about US-Russia relations, Biden and Putin will hold solo press conferences following the summit.

The decision to not hold a joint press conference was something for which White House officials had pushed. Officials have said Russia pushed for a joint press conference during negotiations about the summit. But the US resisted because they did not want to give Putin a platform like he had after a 2018 summit with former President Trump in Helsinki.

Officials said they were mindful of Putin's desire to appear like he'd gotten the better of a US president, and wanted to avoid a situation that devolved into a tit-for-tat playing out in public.

The decision also comes at the advice of a group of Russia experts who met with the President earlier this month, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

"This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other," Biden said on Sunday, explaining the decision.

The US-Russia talks are expected to take place at a lakeside villa in Switzerland and last around five hours or longer, according to a US official. Despite their lengthy agenda, the leaders are not expected to break bread.

Read more here.

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