Geneva (CNN)President Joe Biden said he had raised human rights and cyberattacks during a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that provided an early and critical test of his diplomatic skills in the highest-stakes talks of his long career.
Both Biden and Putin afterward described the three-hour-long summit as generally positive but without any major breakthroughs. Biden suggested the face-to-face was compulsory in a time of deeply strained ties between the United States and Russia. And he said proof of progress would come later, when the results of his diplomacy bear out.
“I did what I came to do,” he said, describing a day that ended as expected: with a better understanding of a shrewd counterpart but without any new areas of agreement.
Biden began a post-summit news conference emphasizing his focus on human rights during the meeting, including raising the case of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Earlier, Putin said he had not detected any hostility between Biden and himself.
There were a few modest outcomes following the talks, including an agreement to return each country’s ambassador to their post and assigning experts to focus on the growing problem of cyberattacks. US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan will probably return to Moscow next week, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
But most of all, both Biden and Putin seemed to suggest the real upshot of their encounter was getting a read on each other ahead of what will likely still be a highly contentious relationship.
“I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else, it’s for the American people,” Biden said. “I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights because that’s who we are.”
Speaking during his own hourlong news conference just before Biden’s, Putin called the talks “constructive” and said he had come away with a generally positive impression of the American leader.
“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.”
Still, he offered no signs of altering malign behavior that has tested the West’s ability and willingness to respond. And he did not alter his rhetoric, decrying Navalny and denying Russia’s roles in cyberattacks.
Instead, he described a frank and pragmatic three hours that had not led to a deep or emotional connection.
“It certainly doesn’t imply that we looked into each other’s eyes and found a soul or swore eternal friendship,” he said.
The summit between Biden and Putin was broken into two rounds: the first a smaller session and the second with larger delegations. The total run time came in shorter than the four to five hours officials initially had predicted for the summit.
“After two hours, we looked at each other like: OK, what’s next?” Biden said, explaining the shorter-than-expected talks.
Biden and 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.
“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.
Biden and Putin take center stage
The summit had begun earlier in the day inside a book-lined study, where each leader wore a serious expression as he delivered perfunctory opening remarks. Biden and Putin spoke through translators and didn’t seem to look at each other directly.
Biden said he was seeking a “predictable and ratio
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