President Joe Biden sought to present himself as tough on Russia and in contrast with his base’s perceptions of former President Donald Trump during his Geneva summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as critics at home questioned whether his policies match this self-portrait.
"It was important to meet in person so there could be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate. I did what I came to do," Biden told reporters after meeting with Putin for over two hours. "This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest.”
Biden boasted of presenting Putin with a list of 16 critical infrastructure “entities” that must be “off-limits” to attack. He threatened “action” that would be “significant” if Russia interfered in U.S. elections.
"He knows there are consequences," he said.
Biden also warned it would be “devastating for Russia” if opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison.
“I made it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to violate our democratic sovereignty or destabilize our democratic elections, and we would respond," he said.
“No president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values," Biden said. "That's just part of the DNA of our country."
Biden even did his best impression of Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” line about talks with the Soviet Union.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he said. “We're going to know shortly."
Some of Biden’s comments could be seen as a subtle rebuke of his predecessor, who many Democrats saw as beholden to Russia after Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and as uninterested in human rights. It was a subtext of the “America is back” talk Biden used throughout his trip to Europe, reassuring allies that U.S. commitment to NATO was “rock-solid and unshakable" after four years of Trump questioning the alliance’s continued usefulness and cajoling participants to up their defense spending.
“So much USA money has been given away to the ‘Club,’ as President Macron of France likes to call it, and to NATO, despite the fact that those countries have taken economic advantage of the United States for many years — until I came along,” Trump shot back in a statement earlier this week. “Not fair to America, or the American taxpayer!”
But Biden has faced criticism at home for not being tough enough on Russia, such as the administration’s decision to lift Trump-backed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a top Putin project. There are also questions about whether Biden succeeded during his trip in rallying European allies against Moscow.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, claimed Biden was heading “objectively” the “most pro-Russia administration of the modern era.”
“Secure internally and with little to lose, Vladimir Putin is ready for President Biden,” Russian journalist Elena Chernenko wrote in the New York Times. “As for his image in the United States and the rest of the West, it’s fair to assume — after years as their arch-villain and evil mastermind — that Mr. Putin couldn’t care less.”
The U.S.-Russian joint statement claimed no major breakthroughs beyond reiterating a shared commitment to nuclear arms control. (However, both sides downplayed the odds of any deal before the leaders arrived in Geneva.)
Biden bristled when CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked why he was confident Putin would change his ways.
"I'm not confident I'm going to change his behavior. What the hell? What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?" Biden replied angrily. "If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business."
Though the president later apologized for being “short” and a “wise guy” with Collins, his extended riff on the “negative” press may overshadow the intended message of his sit-down with Putin.
"Look, to be a good reporter, you’ve got to be negative. You’ve got to have a negative view of life, it seems to me," he complained to the assembled media before climbing aboard Air Force following his drive to Geneva Airport. "You never ask a positive question."
The exchanges with reporters may also have been part of Biden’s effort to show toughness and resolve. In the run-up to the meeting, he was greeted with headlines praising him as clear-eyed about Putin and Russia.
The Associated Press reported that “unlike his four most recent White House predecessors, who made an effort to build a measure of rapport with Vladimir Putin, Biden has made clear that the virtue of fusing a personal connection might have its limits when it comes to the Russian leader.”
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Original Author: W. James Antle III
Original Location: Putin summit gives Biden another chance to say he's not Trump