Parc Le Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, is considered to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Located at the south end of Lake Geneva, it also houses an iconic 18th-century Swiss villa known as Villa de La Grange. The elegant villa is surrounded by lush greenery, redwood trees, rose bushes and a beautiful double basin ancient fountain with a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva and sailboats. Against such a serene backdrop, world’s two most prominent leaders – the US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin – are set to hold their first meeting on June 16. This summit promises to have focused discussions on various issues.
US President Biden, who is on his first foreign trip since entering the White House, is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart amidst great tensions between the two countries. President Biden will hold talks with Putin after attending the G7 summit and participating in the NATO Summit later next week, giving himself a chance to listen to the concerns of other leaders ahead of the meeting with Putin.
The high-profile meeting is of great significance to both nations since the relations between the two pre-eminent nuclear powers have seen a steady decline over the last few years. It is also the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since the coronavirus pandemic shut down travel.
The last time the leaders met each other was ten years ago. In 2011, Joe Biden travelled to Moscow in his capacity as Vice President to meet Putin. However, this time around it is going to be an awkward affair.
On June 11, Friday, Putin told NBC News that Russia's relationship with the United States has “deteriorated to its lowest point” in recent years. The relations between Russia and the US started deteriorating during the last decade. Even though former President Donald Trump shared a cordial relationship with Putin, his inaction against Russia’s malign actions did not bode well in the Americans. Their sole summit in 2018 in Helsinki was clouded with the allegation of Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election.
What are the major issues?
Since taking over as President, Biden has taken a firm line against Russia going as far as describing Putin as a "killer". When Biden and Putin will meet in Geneve, they will have several issues to cover such as cyber security, Russia’s actions in US-backed Ukraine, the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and obviously, the pandemic.
Menace of Cybercriminals
Cyber-attacks have become one of the biggest diplomatic issues between the US and Russia. Cyber hacks have increased in recent years, targeting private US companies which is affecting food, energy and transportation systems. In May, the Colonial Pipeline Co. had to shell out a $5 million ransom to cyber attackers after hackers had seized the control of the vital fuel-shipping system triggering a panic buying of gasoline throughout the South-eastern part of US. The cyber attack was attributed to a Russian-based hacking group DarkSide. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigated has said that hackers were not associated with the Russian government, the US has criticised Moscow for harbouring cybercriminals.
“Ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure are of an even higher order of magnitude of concern for us, whether that’s about a pipeline or meat supply or a hospital system or other areas of critical infrastructure. The President will talk to President Putin about our concerns on this front…” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday, June 9. “We do not judge that the Russian government has been behind these recent ransomware attacks, but we do judge that actors in Russia have. And we believe that Russia can take and must take steps to deal with it,” he added.
Aim is to Stabilise
Kremlin’s recent efforts to suppress dissent could be another touchy issue Biden may hope to raise in the meeting. On June 9, a Russian court designated Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s political movement as an extremist network. However, Putin has already made it clear that he will engage in any such talks related to the Navalny case.
Biden administration has claimed that the US has low expectations from the meeting but the talks between the two leaders will facilitate a conducive atmosphere for a stable relationship with Russia.
It will be interesting to see whether both sides could lower the temperature and impart a sense of stability to what has been a dangerously volatile relationship.