How Joe Biden planned his summit with Putin to avoid the mistakes made by Trump and other world leaders

How Joe Biden planned his summit with Putin to avoid the mistakes made by Trump and other world leaders
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The empty room meant for the Biden-Putin summit
A room at the Villa la Grange arranged for Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden to hold their narrow-format meeting as part of the US-Russia summit. Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit Wednesday.

  • Biden and his team have taken steps to avoid traps Putin likes to set to gain advantage.

  • Putin has psyched out other leaders by showing up late, embarrassing them, and exploiting divisions.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday is holding his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin - and has taken careful steps to avoid the traps his counterpart likes to set.

Putin has developed techniques over his years power in Russia to put rival world leaders on the back foot at summits like Wednesday's.

"From his timing to his baiting techniques and his postgame spin, Russia's president commands an array of tactics aimed at putting U.S. leaders on the defensive and in response mode - and has decades of experience fine-tuning them," Glen Johnson, a former senior aide to Secretary of State John Kerry, wrote in Axios.

One of the tricks deployed by Putin is to keep other meeting attendees waiting, sending the message that he is the one setting the agenda.

Putin kept President Donald Trump waiting for an hour ahead of their summit in Helsinki in 2018, and President Barack Obama was made to wait for 40 minutes before meeting Putin in 2012. Even the pope got the same treatment.

Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said in a tweet that he had seen the schedule the parties had agreed on for the summit and that Putin would arrive first, and Biden second.

"If Putin is late tomorrow, Biden won't be standing around awkwardly waiting," he wrote, notching it as a win for Biden's team.

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When they sit down for face-to-face talks in the Villa la Grange, Biden will be joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Putin by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who will be taking notes.

Trump famously held his discussions with Putin joined only by an interpreter, with their notes afterward concealed. The subjects the leaders discussed then became a matter of enduring speculation.

Biden will be seeking to raise a series of thorny issues, such as Russian cyberattacks and human-rights abuses.

Putin has a reputation for responding to challenges by airing grievances and deflecting criticism with barbs of his own, a technique on display in his NBC News interview ahead of the summit.

Jon Finer, a former chief of staff at the State Department, told NPR in 2017 that it was important not to "take the bait."

"Focus, absorb, and then try to pivot and focus on your own agenda so you can actually get something out of these meetings," he said.

McFaul noted that no joint press conference was scheduled, meaning Putin would be unable to repeat the propaganda win from his conference with Trump in Helsinki.

At that summit, Trump ended up siding with Putin against his own intelligence community on the issue of Russian election interference, sparking an enormous domestic problem for Trump as he publicly wrestled with his own spies.

Trump also expressed support for extraditing Americans to Russia for interrogation, among them McFaul.

"Helsinki will go down in history as the worst bilateral meeting between Russians and Americans ever," McFaul told NPR.

And Biden can expect a fresh challenge even after the summit, Johnson warned.

Whereas Biden would most likely take time to consult Blinken and national security officials about what to say about the outcome of the summit, Putin goes through no such consultation process.

This allows him to quickly communicate his spin on the outcome to the press in the hope of cementing Russia's preferred narrative before the other party can speak.

"Biden could be left playing catch-up unless he can beat Putin at his own game," Johnson remarked.

Despite the abject state of Russia-US relations, McFaul in his NPR interview expressed cautious optimism that Biden could make concrete progress in the meeting, singling out the climate crisis, humanitarian assistance to Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal as areas where discussions might be fruitful.

Reaching agreements on nuclear arms and the return of ambassadors to each other's countires is also on the agenda.

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