President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the Villa la Grange, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Biden and Putin both place a ‘high priority’ on cybersecurity, says presidential adviser after Geneva summit

Despite tensions in the summit lead-up, the two leaders were overly cordial in their remarks after the meeting. Rose Gottemoeller, lead US negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), joined The World’s host Marco Werman to offer insight.

US President Joe Biden met face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.

Earlier this week, Biden called Putin a “worthy adversary.” Biden has also called Putin a “killer,” to which Putin responded, “It takes one to know one.”

Related: Alexei Navalny’s top strategist talks about his current situation

Despite tensions in the lead-up to the summit, however, the two leaders were overly cordial in their remarks following their meeting in Geneva on Wednesday. Speaking through an interpreter, Putin stressed there was no hostility between the two leaders. 

Related: Russia’s vote at UN could cut off humanitarian aid to northwest Syria

“This was a productive meeting. It was fruitful. It was to the point. And it took place in an atmosphere that was actually enabling,” Putin said. 

Putin repeatedly mentioned how the US and Russia face the same threats from cyberattacks to climate change.

Related: Biden at NATO: Ready to talk China, Russia and soothe allies

Neither side made any threats, Biden said. And while they have their clear differences, the two leaders laid the groundwork for future cooperation. 

“This is not a kumbaya moment, as we used to say back in the ’60s in the United States, like ‘let’s hug and love each other.’ But, it’s clearly not in anybody’s interest — your country or mine — for us to be in a situation where we’re in a new Cold War,” Biden said. 

Rose Gottemoeller, lead US negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) joined The World’s host Marco Werman to offer insight into the meeting between the two presidents. She was on the team that briefed Biden for his meeting with Putin. 

Related: How Joe Biden could increase pressure on Vladimir Putin

Marco Werman: So, you heard the two press conferences that both men gave. Did both leaders get what they came for? 

Rose Gottemoeller: It sounds like it, frankly, although, you know, the stance of the two was so different. You know, Putin was definitely being the master propagandist that he is and throwing everything back at the United States, everything wrong in Russia was the fault of the United States. And frankly, you know, I’m used to that. His Soviet predecessors did the same, but that was not the kind of thing we were hearing from Biden. What I liked about Biden was the way in which he subtly, you know, he didn’t issue any threats, just as you said a moment ago.

But he’s subtly indicated that there are some things that Putin ought to think about. He said, “I just made some simple assertions,” such as does he really want a Cold War with us when he’s facing a 1,200-mile border with China and China is surging economically and militarily? Now, of course, Putin would never admit that he’s concerned about China or Xi Jinping, but, you know, maybe that got him thinking. So, in other words, I thought there was a certain subtlety in Biden’s approach, certainly as conveyed during his press conference compared to what we were hearing from Mr. Putin.

I’m curious, what advice did you give President Biden? Did you see any of your advice come into play today? 

Well, I don’t want to, as they say, in any way, endanger the confidentiality of those exchanges. But I will say that Biden seemed to me, even going into that meeting, very well prepared. He’d known about Putin’s behavior for a long time. He’d met with them in the Kremlin when he was vice president. And furthermore, his negotiating skills were well-honed in all his years in the Senate. So, I think he was he was well-prepared for the meeting, but it was good as far as I was concerned. He was very interested in the strategic stability agenda. And so, I talked to him about that. And it was very good that, to me, it was front and center again in the remarks that both Putin and Biden made about what had transpired.

There are so many disagreements and areas of confrontation between Russia and the US. Did Biden make any headway on human rights, for example, the case of Russian political prisoner Alexei Navalny? 

Not seemingly. I mean, again, all the remarks of Putin were not taking any blame whatsoever for human rights violations in the Russian Federation or in any way indicating he was ready to make anything right. But I liked the way Biden put it. He said, you really have to just understand that what I was trying to do was get across three things. I identify our practical work areas, remark directly, comment directly on issues that are important to us and make very clear the priorities and values that the United States and those last two really get to the issues of human rights, and Alexei Navalny.

And I think he left Putin in no uncertain terms as to what the US views are of the Navalny case. And, you know, the remarks about, “Well, what would happen if Navalny died in jail? You need to think about that, President Putin, if you want your country to be in any way able to work with the rest of the world.” 

Another area of confrontation is cybersecurity. The US alleges that Russia was behind several ransomware attacks on the US. From what you heard today, is this an area where the US and Russia can make progress? 

I hope so. The fact that they are going to really get down to substantive discussions, we have had working groups working on issues like, you know, cyberconfidence-building and so forth for many years. So, the two communities — the technical communities — know each other in the United States and Russia. I do think there’s a potential to make progress here. Evidently, according to Biden, we handed over a list of our particular no-go zones where we would like to see a kind of sanctuary established for not attacking with cyberweapons in both countries.

And I think that’s important. That has to do with protecting critical infrastructure, which, again, is something that Putin should be concerned about in the Russian Federation. So, I think we’ve got the technical wherewithal. We’ve got the right people now. Can we make progress on the specifics? And both men seem to indicate it was a high priority. They wanted to see progress in this area. 

From what we’ve seen today, is President Putin a leader that Biden in the US can actually work with?

I think that it will be necessary to work with him on areas where we have a mutual interest. And again, I think that Biden has it right when he said it’s not about trust, but it’s about our self-interest — the US self-interest. And he got that point across very squarely, I thought, in his press conference. I’m sure it’s the same point that he made to Putin directly. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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