The heads of state of the United States and Russia coming together is always a nerve-wracking situation. The Cold War was decades ago, but lingering tensions remain between the two largest nuclear powers on the planet. On Wednesday, Joe Biden had his first meeting as US president with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s long-standing president.
The two met for four hours in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday. Geneva is often chosen as the location for leaders from the two countries to meet, as the city has a reputation for neutrality.
Each of the leaders told reporters after the meeting that the two had a good conversation. Putin described the talks as “constructive,” while Biden characterized them as “positive”. Biden gave a press interview to assembled journalists near Lake Geneva, outdoors. He noted that meeting with other leaders in person is invaluable for diplomacy.
Chief among the pair’s discussion, Biden told reporters, was the need for nuclear weapons control on both sides. An unintentional nuclear conflict has been a feared “end of the world” scenario since the start of the Cold War. Opening more channels for dialogue between the two largest nuclear powers is reassuring for the rest of the world. Even an unintentional launch could spell mutually assured destruction for much of the world.
With the baseline assumption that each leader intends to avoid armed conflict out of the way, Biden tells reporters he and Putin also discussed other recent points of contention between Russia and the US. One such inflection point has been the prevalence of hacking attacks from Eastern Europe and Russia that have targeted US infrastructure.
Biden told reporters that he had a list of targets for cyberattacks that should be off-limits to both countries, namely infrastructure. Putin agreed to set cybersecurity experts to the role of preventing such attacks in the future. He also noted that Russia has been on the receiving end of dozens of cyberattacks, mostly originating from the US, since 2020.
Another major disagreement between the US and Russia during the meeting was the current status of Alexei Navalny. Navalny is an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin who has been held in prison for months following his return from Germany. The politician was poisoned earlier this year and sought treatment at a German hospital. Putin said during the talk that Navalny “wanted to be arrested,” returning to Russia with full knowledge that he had broken many Russian laws.
Putin, who has refused to refer to Navalny by name, told reporters “He ignored the requirement of the law. He knew he was wanted. Nonetheless, he came back to Russia. He wanted to be arrested.”
Despite this, however, Putin sounded satisfied with the talks with Biden. He confirmed to reporters that there is “no hostility” between the two men. In all, the talks seem to have been positive, which allows people in the US, Russia, and the world as a whole, to breathe a bit easier.