Stay Updated on Developing Stories

Biden and Putin hold high-stakes Geneva summit

What we covered here

  • US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face meetings today at a historic summit in Geneva.
  • Biden said the tone of the talks were "positive," and he told Putin that certain US "critical infrastructure" should be off-limits for cyberattacks.
  • Putin described the summit as "constructive," saying both countries will begin consultations on cybersecurity and US and Russian ambassadors will return to their diplomatic posts.
Our live coverage has ended. Read more about the summit here.
5:52 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

5 takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit

US President Joe Biden's meeting Wednesday with his Russian counterpart came after months of diplomatic wrangling over the details, days of preparation with reams of research and the elaborate construction of two separate lakeside venues for the leaders to appear afterward.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the meeting:
The importance of meeting in person: Biden's decision to convene Wednesday's summit boiled down to his essential view of foreign affairs: it's all about the person.

"I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill, that somehow is sort of like a secret code," Biden said at his concluding news conference. "All foreign policy is a logical extension of personal relationships. It's the way human nature functions."

Judging within those parameters, the summit seemed to have met its goals.

"The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive," Biden said, adding: "The bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by."

Vladimir Putin gave a somewhat similar description.

"He's a balanced and professional man, and it's clear that he's very experienced," Putin said. "It seems to me that we did speak the same language."

New president, new perspective: An overriding goal of Biden's team in planning his summit with Putin was to avoid the spectacle that unfolded in Helsinki in 2018, when then-President Trump met Putin alone for two hours and emerged to say he took the Russian's word over US intelligence on election meddling.

They decided against a joint press conference to avoid a similar scenario.

Wednesday's summit was undoubtedly different. Even Putin took notice.

"His predecessor had a different view," he said. "This one decided to act differently. His reply was different from Trump's."

Biden, meanwhile, was open about the areas on which he confronted Putin — including election meddling and human rights, which Trump often downplayed or ignored altogether in his meetings with the Russian leader.

The optics: Skeptics of Biden's meeting with Putin questioned whether meeting the Russian leader so early in Biden's term might elevate the ex-KGB spy's stature on the world stage.

Biden's aides were mindful of that risk; one of the reasons they determined against holding a joint press conference was that it could potentially upgrade Putin if he was seen standing alongside the American President.

But when Biden sat down with Putin inside the Villa la Grange, he took it upon himself to describe Russia and the United States as "two great powers," a notable word choice after previous American officials have sought to downplay Russia's influence.

Similar rhetoric: When Putin emerged after the hours-long summit, he acknowledged the meeting with Biden was "constructive."

"I think both sides manifested a determination to try and understand each other and try and converge our positions," he said.

But he went on to perform the same type of equivocal, denial-filled performance he always does when pressed on issues of cybercrime, human rights and Ukraine.

This was not a surprise to American officials, who did not enter the talks believing Biden would magically be able to change Putin's rhetoric, much less his behavior. Nor was it out of character for Putin, who has often worked to cultivate relationships with American leaders, even as he blatantly shrugs off their concerns in public.

The one difference in Wednesday's appearance was its reach: Because he'd just concluded a highly anticipated summit with the American President, his remarks were broadcast around the world, including on American television networks.

His concluding press conference came ahead of Biden in a piece of highly planned summit choreography. That allowed Biden to rebut many of his points.

The threat of cyberwar: Entering his talks with Putin, Biden made clear that cyber-attacks — and in particular the recent spate of ransomware hacks waged by criminal syndicates operating inside Russia — would constitute a major part of his talks.

Biden believes countries like Russia have a responsibility to tamp down on cybercrime originating in their countries. At earlier meetings of the G7 and NATO this week, he convinced fellow western leaders to include language in their final statements backing him up.

One of the main — and only — outcomes of Wednesday's talks was the agreement to task experts to "work on specific understandings on what's off-limits and to follow up on specific cases."

Biden seemed to acknowledge the limits to the decision: "The principle is one thing, it has to be backed up by practice," Biden said.

And he revealed a telling aspect of his attempts to convince Putin of the seriousness of the crimes: "Well how would you feel if ransomware took down the pipelines from your oil fields?" he said he told Putin.

Biden did not say how Putin responded. But he said he told Putin the US has "significant cyber capability" and would respond to further cyberattacks.

"He knows it. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but he knows it's significant," Biden said. "If in fact they violate his basic norms, we will respond."

4:59 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden and Putin covered extensive ground in one-on-one meeting, source says

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin covered an “extensive” amount of ground in their initial one-on-one meeting, which led to a shorter expanded bilateral meeting, according to a senior administration official.

“This was a very, this is a very focused, practical, nonpolemical discussion,” the official said.

“It wasn't people reading talking points at each other or just going on monologues about this or that; it was very practically focused on these different, very important issues, and as a result, they covered a lot of ground and some of the ground that we anticipated possibly covering with the full teams, they actually covered in the one plus one,” the official said.

“As a result, when we got to the larger meetings, ... we covered a lot of ground,” the official said, noting that they drilled deeper on a few areas in the bigger meeting.

3:28 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Catch up: Here's what happened during Biden's post-summit news conference

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden wrapped up a news conference today after his sit-down meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Putin held his own news conference just before Biden’s, where he said the summit was "productive" overall.
If you're just reading in now, here's a look at some takeaways from Biden's news conference, in the President's own words:
  • Biden opened the news conference by stating both leaders must create a “stable” and “predictable” relationship. "I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anybody else. It's for the American people," Biden said.
  • Biden explained his reasoning for the face-to-face meetings with Putin. "It was important to meet in person so there could be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate. I did what I came to do," Biden said.
  • The US President said he raised the issue of human rights during the meetings, and said he “made it clear” to Putin that he will continue to speak out against cases where there are concerns about human rights violations. "It's not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights, it's about who we are," Biden said.
  • Biden and Putin spent a majority of their meetings discussing cybersecurity. In fact, Biden said he outlined 16 specific entities that are defined as critical infrastructure, including energy and water, that both sides should agree are out of bounds for cyberwar. "I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack, period. By cyber or any other means," Biden said.
  • Biden was also asked what consequences there will be if there is further election meddling or other cybersecurity attacks against the US. "He knows there are consequences," Biden said of Putin. "He knows I will take action."
  • Both Putin and Biden spoke about Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny during their individual news conferences. According to Biden, he told Putin that if Navalny dies, the consequences "would be devastating for Russia." "What do you think happens when he's saying it's not about hurting Navalny, and all the stuff he says to rationalize the treatment of Navalny, and then he dies in prison?”
  • In addition, the US President pledged to “follow through” on discussions about detained Americans in Russia. This comes after the parents of imprisoned former US Marine Trevor Reed and the family of Paul Whelan have both appealed to Biden to help release their loved ones. "I am not going to walk away on that," Biden said to reporters.
  • When asked if he trusts Putin, Biden said, “this is not about trust.” ���This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest. That's what it's about,” Biden said. He later added, “Let's see what happens. You know, as that old expression goes, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating it.’ We're gonna know shortly.”
  • Overall, the US President called the tone of today’s meetings “positive.” He also noted that there were no "threats" during today's summit. "I must tell you, the tone of the entire meeting, I guess it was a total of four hours, it was good. Positive.”
Read more about today's summit here.
4:39 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden departs Switzerland after summit with Putin

Patrick Semansky/AP
US President Joe Biden boarded Air Force One and departed Geneva en route to Washington, DC, following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following their first face-to-face meeting, Biden and Putin described their discussions as "positive" and "constructive." Both leaders agreed to begin consultations on cybersecurity and return their diplomatic posts.

"I really do think — not me, but I think we, the country, has put a different face on where we've been and where we're going, and I feel good about it," Biden said to the press, reflecting on his first foreign trip as President before boarding Air Force One.

2:13 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden on summit ending earlier than expected: "We had covered so much"

Patrick Semansky/AP

US President Joe Biden addressed today why his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin ended earlier than expected during his news conference following the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We had covered so much," he said.

The summit, which was originally expected to last between four and five hours, wrapped up within three.

"The reason it didn't go longer is when was the last time two heads of state spent two hours in direct conversation directly across the table going into excruciating detail? You may know of a time, but I don't," Biden said.

Biden explained, "So, there was a summary done by him and by me of what we covered. Lavrov and Blinken talked about what we covered. We raised things that required more amplification or we made sure we did not have any misunderstandings. It was after two hours there, we looked at each other like, 'okay, what next?' What is going to happen next is we're going to be able to look back, look ahead in three to six months and say, did the things we agree to sit down and work out, did it work? Are we closer to a major strategic stability talks and progress? ... That's going to be the test. I am not sitting here saying because the President and I agreed we would do these things that all of a sudden it's going to work. I'm not saying that. What I am saying is that I think there's a genuine prospect to significantly improve the relations between the two countries, without giving up anything on principles and values."

Biden also reiterated that "there were no threats" during the meeting. "Just simple assertions made...  Just letting him know where I stood, what I thought we could accomplish together, and what, in fact, if there were violations of American sovereignty, what would we do," Biden said.

2:08 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

US and Russia issue joint statement on strategic stability

The US and Russia released a joint statement on Wednesday following the summit between the countries’ two leaders, noting that “even in periods of tension,” the two nations share goals of “ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war."
"The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the statement said. "Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures."
4:38 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden apologizes for lashing out at CNN's Kaitlan Collins after question on Putin's behavior

Patrick Semansky/AP

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pressed US President Joe Biden on why he is confident Russian President Vladimir Putin will change his behavior following the leaders’ meeting in a sharp, confrontational exchange.

Biden turned around after Collins finished her question to respond. 

“I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior. Where the hell – what do you do all the time. When did I say I was confident?” he asked, walking back toward reporters.

He continued, “What I said was, 'let’s get it straight – I said, what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating a fact.”

Collins noted that Putin denied involvement in cyberattacks, downplayed human rights abuses, and refused to say Alexey Navalny’s name during his press conference, and how he could be sure that anything would change with the Russian leader. 

Biden responded, “If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.”

He did not answer her question as he departed the stage. 

Later, before boarding Air Force One, President Joe Biden apologized to Collins for his answer at the press conference. 

“I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave,” he said.

Interviewed by CNN Wolf Blitzer after Biden apologized, Collins said she was "just doing my job" when asking Biden that question.

"That is completely unnecessary from the President. He did not have to apologize, though I do appreciate he did in front of the other reporters as he was about to get on Air Force One," Collins said. "When I was asking him that question, I was just doing my job, which is to question the President, regardless if they're a Democrat or a Republican, and asking the President a question does not mean it has a negative slant or a positive slant."

"It is simply a way to get into the President's mindset of how he is viewing something, something as major as a meeting with a world leader who has interfered in US elections, jailed his political opponents, dismissed human rights, as he did at a press conference here in Geneva just earlier today. And so I do appreciate the President's apology, but it is not necessary. Because, of course, it's just our job to ask the President questions, that's the business that we are in," Collins continued.

Watch the moment:

2:09 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden: Putin relationship not about trust, but about "self-interest and verification of self-interest"

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Pressed in Geneva if he trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden told reporters following a bilateral meeting that “this is not about trust.”

“This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest. That's what it's about,” Biden says. “... [With] almost anyone that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American people's interest, I don't say, ‘Well I trust you and no problem.’ Let's see what happens. You know, as that old expression goes, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating it.’ We're gonna know shortly,” Biden said.
Following his own meeting with Putin in 2018, former US President Donald Trump indicated willingness to take Putin’s word over his own intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Biden also declined to elaborate on earlier remarks that Putin was “a killer,” pointing to remarks from Putin earlier that he was satisfied with Biden’s explanation of the comments. 

“He’s satisfied. Why would I bring it up again?” Biden said.

2:06 p.m. ET, June 16, 2021

Biden pledges to follow through with discussions about detained Americans

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

US President Joe Biden said discussions about detained Americans in Russia came up during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he will "follow through" on those talks.

"I am not going to walk away on that," Biden said to reporters.
The parents of imprisoned former US Marine Trevor Reed and the family of Paul Whelan, an American citizen who was convicted of espionage by a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years in prison, have both appealed to Biden to help release their loved ones.