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The fact that Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin only appeared together in front of cameras for a few moments at the beginning of their meeting, gave little indication of personal chemistry. They shook hands but shared little of the body language bonhomie Mr. Trump made with Mr. Putin. In a little commonality, Mr. Biden gave Mr. Putin, who also likes to wear sunglasses, one of his favorite aviator glasses. And Mr Putin noted that Mr Biden was telling stories about his mother, as he often does.
They all then expressed their different positions, with Mr. Biden condemning Russian cyber attacks, international aggression and domestic repression, and Mr. Putin citing his typical defense policy citing offensive American actions. In a recalcitrant tone, Mr Putin even defended his crackdown on nonviolent opposition activists like Mr Navalny by saying he wanted to avoid an insurrection like the January 6th storming of the United States Capitol, a comparison that Biden considered “ridiculous” designated. But they prevented their criticism from becoming personal.
“It was business-like, it was professional,” said Angela E. Stent, a former Russian intelligence officer and author of books on Putin and the West. “Neither of them really gave in anything. But they seemed to have established something that could be a working relationship. “
Fiona Hill, who, as Mr Trump’s senior Russia adviser, was so alarmed by his deference to Mr Putin in Helsinki that she said she was considering faking a medical emergency to end the session, called this meeting a stark contrast . “It just feels more professional on both sides,” she said.
While Mr Biden is sunnier and Mr Putin is grumpier, they are both seasoned political leaders who have no illusions about one another. “Both are realists,” she says. “Nobody comes in with high expectations.”
Mr Biden is only the youngest in a long line of American presidents forced to figure out how to deal with Mr Putin, a two-decade story of misjudgment, despair and bitterness. As a former KGB colonel who undone Russia’s stalled post-Soviet experiment with democracy and established power in the hands of a small, well-heeled ruling clique, Putin defied all kinds of American charm, incentive, pressure and punishment.
President Bill Clinton was the first to interact with Putin after he became Prime Minister and considered him “tough enough to hold Russia together,” as he later put it in his memoirs, but felt rejected by the new leader who was not one Was interested in doing business with an outgoing American president.