Putin-Biden Summit: When Russia, US leaders talked politics

 | Updated: Jun 14, 2021, 06:27 PM IST

As US President Biden gets set to meet Russian President Putin at Geneva, we take a look at the historic meetings between Russian and US leaders.

Reagan and Gorbachev

Wednesday's Geneva summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will take place in a plush 18th-century lakeside villa steeped in the Swiss city's history.

Back in 1985, however it was was a different story between Reagan and Gorbachev. 

Things got off to a bad start. Just before US president Reagan arrived at one of the summit locations, a Swiss soldier waiting in the ceremonial honour guard fainted, overcome by the bitter cold.

One of the most enduring pictures from the summit is one of the two most powerful men on the planet sitting beside a fireplace, smiling at each other from their armchairs -- an image that conjures up the impression of a cosy fireside chat between two old friends.

The conviviality extended to their wives Raisa Gorbacheva and Nancy Reagan, who chatted over tea under the gaze of photographers.


Reagan and Gorbachev 

A sign of the thaw was the first handshake between Gorbachev and Reagan, which lasted seven seconds.

The historic moment took place in front of the Villa Fleur d'Eau, a late 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The villa is currently up for sale.

The handshake took place before frozen photographers and reporters who had stood waiting in the garden in the bitter cold.

As the Americans had chosen the large villa for day one of the talks, Reagan was there first to welcome Gorbachev.


Nikita Khrushchev-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (R) extends his hand to US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in front of the American embassy of Vienna, Austria on 03 June 1961.

After a week of meeting allies from the G7, European Union and NATO, Biden will end his first major foreign trip with Putin in Geneva in a historic meeting between the two leaders.

When Vladimir Putin meets Joe Biden for their first summit on Wednesday the Russian leader will not be looking for progress on arms control, the lifting of sanctions or even an apology for the US president saying he is a "killer". 

Critics says Putin already got what he wanted -  the summit itself.


Bill Clinton with Boris Yeltsin

On October 23, 1995 President of the United States Bill Clinton met President of Russia Boris Yeltsin at Hyde Park.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington are at their highest in years over a long list of disputes -- from cyberattacks and election meddling to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and designation of his organisations as "extremist" groups.

Expectations for the talks between Putin and Biden are low, with officials on both sides repeatedly saying the two leaders are unlikely to find much common ground.

But for Putin, experts say, Biden's invitation to hold the summit was enough, a sign of the respect for Russia that he has always craved in more than two decades in power.


Leonid Brezhnev-Richard Nixon

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev  meets US President Richard Nixon at the Kremlin, on May 22, 1972 in Moscow.

Biden had proposed the summit in April, after Russia sparked Western alarm by massing tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine.

Officials and state media in Moscow hailed the invitation as a victory for Putin, framing the talks as the latest in a series of historic summits dating back to the Cold War.

However, no one expects the meeting to be friendly, especially after Biden in his first months in office announced new sanctions on Moscow and told a journalist he agreed with a description of Putin as a "killer".

Biden is promising to talk tough with his Russian counterpart by raising accusations of state-sponsored cyberattacks and election meddling, abuse of human rights, harbouring ransomware gangs and sabre-rattling with Ukraine. 


Biden and Putin 

Putin told NBC News ahead of the summit that the relationship with the United States was at "its lowest point in recent years" but that he hoped "career man" Biden -- who he previously met when Biden was vice-president -- would be less impulsive than predecessor Donald Trump.

With cooperation off the table, observers say, Biden and Putin will be happy to settle for moves towards a more predictable form of confrontation.

"Relations between Russia and the United States have become irrational," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the influential journal Russia in Global Affairs.

"There is confrontational anarchy. Now they want to move into a structured system, more reminiscent of the Cold War."

An agreement for further talks on arms control would be seen as a positive sign, experts say, as would promises of joint efforts on cybersecurity. 

On rights issues like the fate of Navalny, or on Russia's backing for separatists in Ukraine, no one is holding their breath.



"Putin has made it 100 percent clear that he does not see the United States as a judge or guide on human rights," independent Russian political analyst Masha Lipman said.

"A breakthrough in Ukraine? Don't wait for that. The conflict is chronic and it is futile to talk about it."

The White House said Saturday the two leaders will not hold a joint press conference, with Biden speaking solo to journalists after the talks. Putin is likely to speak separately to Russian journalists.

In the end, Galeotti said, Putin will be able to fly back to Moscow basking in the glory of a summit, while Biden can move on to other things.


US President Joe Biden & Russian President Vladimir Putin

Looming large at the summit is also the scramble to complete NATO's hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan after Biden surprised partners by ordering US troops home by September 11.

As NATO looks to the future, it is putting one of its most significant chapters behind it by ending two decades of military involvement in Afghanistan.

Allies are patching together plans to try to avert a collapse of Afghan forces when they leave and figuring out how to provide enough security for Western embassies to keep working.