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The Biden-Putin Summit Is Over. Both Sides Say It Was Positive


After a summit with Russia's leader yesterday, President Biden said the important thing here wasn't just what he said but who said it.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It was important to meet in person so there can be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate. I did what I came to do.

INSKEEP: Biden seems to have communicated a fair amount. He gave Vladimir Putin a list of critical parts of U.S. infrastructure and warned against attacking them. Both leaders agreed to talk about arms control. Biden says he raised human rights issues in Russia, although Putin dissembled about them when talking with reporters afterwards. So what did each side gain from all of this? We're joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, good morning.


INSKEEP: And also NPR Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim. Good morning to you.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So the view from two capitals here. How did President Biden view this encounter, Tam?

KEITH: Well, he told reporters that he said what he wanted to say. That meant raising human rights concerns and pressing Putin on his treatment of his political opposition. It meant raising recent hacks and ransomware attacks attributed to cybercriminals in Russia. And as you mentioned, he gave President Putin this list of 16 areas of critical infrastructure. Now, let's be clear, this is not a state secret. This is a list that is on U.S. government websites. But he said that these 16 areas should be off limits for cyberattacks, including things like energy and water. Now, whether there will actually be an agreement on that, nothing really came in that way. But President Biden sort of hinted that there could be a U.S. response if those areas are attacked. And he made the case that it was in both of their self-interest to agree.


BIDEN: For example, when I talked about the pipeline that cyber hit for $5 million - that ransomware hit in the United States, I looked at him and I said, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said it would matter.

KEITH: So they agreed to begin some diplomatic conversations around cybersecurity, but Biden had a fairly heavy dose of skepticism and said he'd have to wait to see if anything comes of it.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the skepticism in a moment. But first, let's go to Moscow. And, Lucian, if you are in the shoes of Vladimir Putin for a moment, what did you gain?

KIM: Well, if you're Vladimir Putin, you gained a meeting with the president of the United States. When Biden took office, there was a lot of concern here in Moscow that relations could get even worse than they were under Donald Trump. And Biden's remark in an interview that he thought Putin was a killer did not help things at all. Now, Putin got the summit. He stood on the world stage with Biden. But, you know, beyond just that photo op, from Putin's point of view, he is engaging America again. He needs this engagement to bolster his legitimacy as a world leader. The U.S. and Russia are now talking about strategic stability, which is really just a fancy way of saying arms control and avoiding head-on conflict. And as Tam mentioned, cyber - you know, this is actually an area where Putin has been trying to engage the U.S. because, again, it puts Russia on the same level as the United States. You know, the slogan of Biden's trip has been that America's back. But I think after this summit, Russia can tell Russians that Russia is back.

INSKEEP: Tamara, there was a compelling moment of President Biden's exchanges with reporters, which I think was kind of revealing actually. He got testy, later apologized when a reporter asked why he had any confidence that Putin would change. And Biden said, I'm not confident.

KEITH: Right, exactly. And President Biden was asked several variations on that question. Like, how can you trust Putin? And this - especially because Putin in his press conference right before Biden spoke and he denied Russian culpability for cyberattacks. When asked about his mistreatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he brought up the January 6 insurrection that, you know, the classic whataboutism, seemingly sympathizing with the rioters. Biden said, you know, it's not a matter of trusting Russia.


BIDEN: This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest.

KEITH: Yeah. And Biden later apologized to the reporter who he lashed out at and really does continue to be both trying to have this balance of skepticism and optimism.

INSKEEP: He wants to be able to move forward in some fashion or at least insist on the U.S. point of view. Lucian, as you watched what you could see of Vladimir Putin walking in and out of the summit, talking with reporters afterward, what stood out to you to this leader you've watched for so many years?

KIM: Well, what stood out was that it was such a businesslike and predictable meeting. Let's remember the Helsinki summit between Trump and Putin three years ago. There was a lot of posturing, a lot of interpreting of what was actually being said. You know, the Geneva meeting, by contrast, went exactly as planned for both sides. That doesn't mean it was a routine. There are a lot of problems between the world's two largest nuclear powers, but at least it looks like the downward spiral has been stopped for now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lucian Kim and Tamara Keith, thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

KIM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOETT'S "LAST NIGHT ON RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.