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Well, that didn’t take long.
There was intense media work, the largest of Joe Biden’s brief presidency. Anchors flew to Geneva, networks made special “summit” graphics, the word “showdown” was thrown around.
The media presented the encounters with Vladimir Putin as a boxing match from which only one fighter could emerge victorious. Either Uncle Sam or the Kremlin guy would win. This completely distorted the nature of what was going on, two cautious opponents from nuclear states acting in their own interests.
“I know there was a lot of hype about this meeting,” Biden told reporters in a colossal understatement.
After the experts immersed themselves in body language – Biden sat up straight, Putin crouched and looked uncomfortable – there was a warning sign. The Russian side said the talks could last many hours. But the first session lasted 90 minutes and the second, larger session maybe a little over an hour. And that was it. The chatter: what could that mean? What could they possibly have achieved? Did anyone go out?
We got the Putin version first – in a shocking length. The Russian strongman said Biden was very experienced and the talks were “very constructive”. Given Biden’s decision not to perform together so as not to be overshadowed, as his team believes Donald Trump was in Helsinki, he stepped off the stage and the first rough draft in history.
When it was Biden’s turn, he described the tone as positive and factual, with differences of opinion clearly voiced.
But there was no concrete souvenir, unless one counts the exchange of ambassadors again.
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When an AP reporter asked what he had achieved in cyber hacking – for which Putin expectedly declined responsibility – Biden said that if the Russians don’t stop, “he knows I will take action …” the president said, Moscow International credibility is at stake but presented as blunt truths and “there have been no threats, just simple allegations.” The reality is that they just agreed to talk more on the subject.
The president kept coming back to his central theme, that he raised the questions, that Russia has many problems, that world opinion counts. But he admitted that it will take three to six months for us to know whether progress can really be made. There was no, to use a diplomatic word, “deliveries”.
Biden was tied to his message of pragmatic diplomacy as he went through the reporters’ roster (New York Times, PBS, Wire Services). But when answering a few screamed questions on his way out, he was irritated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, who simply asked, “Why are you so confident that he will change his behavior?”
That word perturbed him as he went back to the press package. “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,” snapped Biden as if she hadn’t been listening. “I’m just saying the fact … If you don’t understand this, you are in the wrong business.” It was the only time during this trip that he got a little hot.
In fact, before getting on the plane, Biden came back to the pool reporters, apologizing for being “brief” and saying he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy”. But he said the press always asks negative questions while he needs to be optimistic.
Putin had previously rejected questions about the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and the outlawing of his movement – and continued to address American problems.
He said Navalny broke the law, his group was calling for mass rioting, and then gave what might be called the defense of George Floyd:
“America has had very serious events only recently … after the assassination, the murder of an African American, and an entire movement known as the Black Lives Matter … What we saw was disorder, destruction, breaking the law, etc. We have compassion for the United States of America, but we don’t want this to happen on our territory and we are doing our best not to let it happen. “
Putin wasn’t finished yet and cited the Capitol Rebellion:
“People came to the US Congress with political demands. Four hundred people, over 400 people were charged. They face prison terms of up to 20, maybe 25 years. They are labeled as domestic terrorists,” but some were called for “unclear reasons.” arrested.
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The people arrested at the Capitol were not only making political demands, they were involved in an uproar. That Putin denounces this while justifying the poisoning and imprisonment of a political opponent who did not engage in violence is just a propaganda speech.
From Biden’s point of view, what happened in Geneva was another day in the office, standard diplomacy in hopes of an eventual payoff. But in the win-lose world of the media, which thrives on confrontation, the whole thing was kind of bankrupt.