Putin and biden meet – relationship at rock bottom

No twitching of the corners of his mouth, no nervous quivering of his eyebrows. Even if Vladimir Putin is verbally attacked, he has his features under control, showing at most a mocking grin. A poker face.

If at this Wednesday noon at the summit in Geneva When he meets his Russian counterpart, he is forewarned. Biden – then still vice president – already made acquaintance with Putin's toughness during their first meeting in Moscow in March 2011. He wanted to convince the then Russian head of government Putin that a planned U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe not pose a threat to his country. "Putin was of an icy calm, and he argued with me from beginning to end," Biden later wrote in his memoir.

Putin's specialty is dry counters

Finally, the two men looked each other in the eye. "Mr. Prime Minister, I don't think you have a soul," Biden said gruffly. "He also looked at me, smiled and said, 'We understand each other.'"

Dry counters are Putin's specialty. The Amateur judo fighter understands it masterfully to take up the attacks of its opponents and to turn against these even. He also shrugs off accusations from the West that the Kremlin tried to take out opposition politician Alexei Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok. When Biden indirectly called the Russian president a "killer" in a TV interview in March, the latter remained unmoved. He made fun of the statement demonstratively and celebrated, one should not conclude from itself on others, and wished Biden "health".

Still, after tactical hesitation, Putin accepted Biden's offer of a top-level meeting. "Putin wants summit with Biden for prestige reasons. 'He's all about images that show him at eye level with the U.S. president,' said Gustav Gressel of the Berlin office of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations. "Putin wants to underline Russia's claim to a world power role. It is also important for him to have a top-level meeting with Biden before the Chinese leader Xi Jinping."

Putin wants to play to his strengths in the global political arena

The Kremlin leader's mission could be called "Operation World Power". The economy of the oil and gas empire Russia is far behind the USA and China. But as a nuclear power with veto power in the UN Security Council, Moscow is still on a par with Washington. The Russian Federation (6255) and America (5550) possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Putin wants to play to this strength in the global political arena. "The collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. Century," he had once lamented. Today, the president is trying to build on the global weight and influence of the USSR.

The former KGB officer has an unerring instinct for power and knows when his hour has come. Putin annexed Crimea in March 2014. In September 2015, he intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war.

"It's always just about showing off the Americans"

Muscle plays against the USA are part of Moscow's political arsenal. Western diplomats at the UN in New York complain about the showboating that Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebensya engages in with his colleagues on the Security Council. "It's always just about showing up the Americans," underlines the ambassador of an EU country. Probably for this reason, Biden's team refrained from holding a joint press conference in Geneva. Both make separate appointments.

The deployment of Russian troops on Ukraine's border in April was a double signal: to intimidate Kiev, which dreams of joining the EU and NATO. With regard to Washington, Putin wanted to make it clear that he forbids any criticism of Russia's domestic policy. Since the attempted poisoning of Nawalny, presumably by the FSB intelligence service, in August 2020, Moscow has been pursuing a course of annihilation against the opposition.

Biden wants to talk to Putin about Russian cyberattacks

Nevertheless, Putin knows that relations with America "have reached their lowest point in recent years," as he recently admitted. But he also wants to avoid an escalation that gets out of hand. "One point that is important for Russia is to limit nuclear weapons and other strategic weapons that require a lot of money. Putin is concerned with maintaining parity with the U.S. at the lowest possible cost," explains Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Moscow also knows that it was not least US President Ronald Reagan's massive rearmament program that drove the USSR to ruin.

Biden wants to raise the ie of alleged Russian cyberattacks in the United States, as well as allegations of interference in U.S. elections. The tense situation in Belarus and Ukraine will also be on his agenda. Beyond that, the talks are likely to focus on ies close to both sides' hearts: the fight against Corona, climate protection, cooperation in the Arctic, the controversial nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

The Russians and Americans have already said goodbye to lofty expectations. Moscow has passed the buck as a precautionary measure. "It takes two to tango. But if anyone is breakdancing, I think it gets more complicated," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.