Biden and Putin set ‘consultations’ on updating nuclear pact

US president Joe Biden, right, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, shake hands during their meeting in Switzerland
17:51pm, Wed 16 Jun 2021
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Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he and US president Joe Biden agreed in a “constructive” summit to return ambassadors to their posts, lowering tensions and beginning consultations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons.

Mr Putin said after the summit meeting on Wednesday that there was “no hostility” during the talks, which wrapped up more quickly than anticipated.

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and each side’s top foreign aide.

When it was over, Mr Putin had a first go at describing the results at a solo news conference, with Mr Biden to follow with his own session with reporters.

Mr Putin acknowledged that Mr Biden raised human rights issues with him, including the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The Russian leader defended Mr Navalny’s prison sentence and deflected repeated questions about mistreatment of Russian opposition leaders by highlighting US domestic turmoil, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

Mr Putin said he and Mr Biden agreed to begin negotiations on nuclear talks to potentially replace the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.

Mr Putin speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Mr Biden (AP)

Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Talks resumed in 2017 but gained little traction and failed to produce an agreement on extending the New START treaty during the Trump administration.

The Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to return their ambassadors to their respective postings. Both countries had pulled back their top envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations chilled over recent months.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Mr Biden called Mr Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Mr Putin said that the ambassadors were expected to return to their posts in the coming days.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, and US president Joe Biden shake hands as they arrive for the summit (AP)

Mr Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, though he continued to deny US allegations that the Russian government was responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.

Mr Biden and Mr Putin plunged into the face-to-face talks on Wednesday at the Villa La Grange – a lush lakeside Swiss mansion – in a highly anticipated summit which comes at a time when both leaders say relations between their countries are at a low point.

As the two leaders appeared briefly before media at the start of the meeting, Mr Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face-to-face”. Mr Putin said he hoped the talks would be “productive”.

Mr Biden and Mr Putin meet for the summit (AP)

For months, Mr Biden and Mr Putin have traded sharp rhetoric. Mr Biden has repeatedly called out Mr Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, for the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and for interference in American elections.

Mr Putin has reacted with denials — pointing to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol to argue that America has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government has not been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.

In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Summit venue Villa la Grange (AP)

Even so, Mr Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

The White House opted against holding a joint news conference

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