Meeting Putin, Biden Will Raise Human Rights and Digital Disruption

Meeting Putin, Biden Will Raise Human Rights and Digital Disruption


President Biden and his aides have been careful to lower expectations for the blockbuster part of his first trip abroad as president: his meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior administration official told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president flew from Brussels to Geneva on Tuesday ahead of the summit.

But that doesn’t mean that the administration and the president have not thought about what they hope to achieve by giving Mr. Putin an international platform — something that critics on both the left and the right have said was a mistake for Mr. Biden to do.

Here are five outcomes that the president and the White House are looking for:

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has received criticism for not taking a stronger stand on human rights. Some critics say he has not responded forcefully enough to the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, a dissident and Putin critic.

The White House disputes that criticism. But the administration sees the meeting with Mr. Putin as an opportunity to challenge the Russian leader on his treatment of Mr. Navalny and his country’s support of Belarus, which detained a journalist by forcing down a passenger plane.

Part of Mr. Biden’s sales pitch during the 2020 presidential campaign was that he would turn his predecessor’s approach to Russia on its head.

Now, after four years in which Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia were continuously scrutinized, Mr. Biden and his top advisers are eager to present the president as a Moscow skeptic — someone who will not take Mr. Putin at his word as Mr. Trump famously did at a 2018 summit in Helsinki.

The Geneva meeting gives Mr. Biden the chance to draw that contrast explicitly and to be seen as standing up to the Russian president in ways that his predecessor did not. (One difference: Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin will not stand side by side in a joint news conference, a decision that American officials made early on, in the hopes of not giving the Russian leader a chance to try to outshine Mr. Biden.)

American intelligence officials say the Russian government has expanded its use of cyberattacks against the West, and the United States is one of the key targets.

Administration officials say Mr. Biden is determined to deliver a stern message to Mr. Putin about the use of cyberweapons and the dangers of an escalating online war.

Mr. Biden and the administration have been careful to deliver a nuanced message about what kind of relationship they want with Russia and its leader. The phrase they use the most: “predictability and stability.”

Those are not words that evoke the image of a president bracing for an all-out fight with an adversary. In fact, White House officials have repeatedly said that Mr. Biden hopes to work with Russia where possible, even as he stands up to Mr. Putin in other areas.

That may prove the trickiest part of the summit.

If he can find that balance, Mr. Biden is hoping to make some modest progress.

The two leaders might be able to further efforts to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They might also work together in the Middle East, where Russia helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal. And Mr. Biden has also said he wants Russia to be part of global efforts to combat climate change.



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