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What to expect at the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva: Yahoo News Explains

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  • Vladimir Putin
    Vladimir Putin
    President of Russia
  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a constant challenge for every American president since Bill Clinton — and now it’s Joe Biden’s turn. The upcoming summit between the U.S. and Russian leaders represents a major diplomatic test for Biden’s administration at a time when antagonism between Washington and Moscow is at its worst in decades. Yahoo News National Security Correspondent Zach Dorfman previews what to expect.

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ZACH DORFMAN: Vladimir Putin has been a constant challenge for every American president since Bill Clinton. After their first meeting, President George W. Bush famously said--

GEORGE W. BUSH: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Obama administration tried to hit the reset button in US-Russia relations, and President Trump said he got along great with President Putin.

BILL O'REILLY: Putin's a killer.

DONALD TRUMP: A lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. Why, you think our country's so innocent?

ZACH DORFMAN: Now, it's President Biden's turn, and the upcoming summit between the US and Russian presidents represents a major diplomatic test for the new administration. The Biden-Putin meeting will be the capstone of President Biden's first overseas trip, following a G7 meeting in the United Kingdom and a NATO summit in Brussels.

In Geneva, Biden and Putin will likely discuss some of the geopolitical schisms bedeviling US-Russia relations, including Ukraine, where Russia is backing separatists in the Eastern part of that country; Syria, where Russia has helped prop up the Assad regime; and Belarus, where a government led by a Putin ally recently forced an international flight to land and seized a dissident on board. There's also the lingering case of Paul Whelan, an American and former US Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018.

PAUL WHELAN: Russia says it caught James Bond on a spy mission. In reality, they abducted Mr. Bean on holiday.

ZACH DORFMAN: Biden has become increasingly skeptical of the Russian leader over the years. As Vice President, Biden told Putin at an in-person meeting that contrary to George W. Bush, he thought the Russian leader didn't even have a soul. In March he recounted the story to ABC'S George Stephanopoulos.

JOE BIDEN: I said, I look through your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul. He looked back and he said we understand each other.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You think he's a killer?

JOE BIDEN: Mm-hmm. I do.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Kremlin didn't take that characterization lightly.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN: Angered by Biden's remarks, Putin recalled Russia's ambassador back to Moscow for consultations, something Moscow has not done in protest in more than 20 years.

ZACH DORFMAN: Then in April, the Biden administration announced it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats, almost certainly spies under diplomatic cover, in retaliation for the massive SolarWinds hacking campaign that US intelligence agencies have linked to Russia. Human rights, in particular, the health of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are another flashpoint in US-Russia relations. In his Memorial Day address, President Biden previewed the message his administration will likely take on the subject in the summit.

JOE BIDEN: I'll be meeting with President Putin in a couple of weeks in Geneva, making it clear that we will not-- we will not stand by, let them abuse those rights.

ZACH DORFMAN: Still, for the administration's relatively antagonistic posture, Biden and Putin are expected to discuss big picture issues at the summit, like the overall tenor of US-Russia relations, the coronavirus pandemic, and how to potentially extend the New START treaty, which is the sole remaining nuclear non-proliferation agreement between Moscow and Washington. Neither country expects a diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva, however.

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