President Joe Biden arrived in Geneva on Tuesday for a much-watched meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, fresh from days of alliance-building sessions between the American leader and his European allies.
Biden is making his first trip to Europe as president, and seeking to restore European partnerships shaken by former President Donald Trump.
Biden this week has held long days of meetings with global leaders at the Group of Seven, NATO and US-EU summits, where he secured joint communiques expressing concern over Russia and China. On Tuesday, he helped preside over a tension-easing agreement easing a long-running US trade dispute with Europe.
But Biden’s Wednesday meeting with the Russian president is his most highly anticipated.
Biden plans to confront Putin on everything from Moscow’s cyberattacks to its election interference efforts and human rights abuses. But he’s also said he hopes to look for areas where the two nations can cooperate and to normalize the historically icy relationship between the two nations.
Before leaving his Brussels stop Tuesday morning, US officials announced a major breakthrough with the European Union in a 17-year trade dispute centered on rival subsidies for aircraft manufacturers.
The two sides reached terms on much of a government subsidy each can provide for its aircraft manufacturing giant — Boeing in the United States and Airbus in the EU. The announcement came as Biden met with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
With the move, Biden eases a major point of tension in the trans-Atlantic relationship at a moment he’s seeking to marshal widespread European support for his efforts to counter Russia prior to his Wednesday meeting in Geneva with Putin.
White House officials expressed confidence that they can build more goodwill with Europe ahead of the face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Biden started his day by meeting with Belgian King Philippe and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The US-EU summit is also expected to include a communique later Tuesday that will address concerns about China’s provocative behavior.
That statement would follow a NATO summit communique on Monday that declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine the global rules-based order. On Sunday, the Group of Seven nations called out what it said were China’s forced labor practices and other human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province.
Biden is also expected to spend time discussing Russia with Michel and von der Leyen ahead of Wednesday’s summit with Putin.
Since taking office in January, Biden has repeatedly pressed Putin to take action to stop Russian-originated cyberattacks on companies and governments in the US and around the globe and decried the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden also has publicly aired intelligence that suggests — albeit with low to moderate confidence — that Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban to target US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Both Biden and Putin have described the US-Russia relationship as being at an all-time low.
The Europeans are keen to set up a “high-level dialogue” on Russia with the United States to counter what they say is Moscow’s drift into deeper authoritarianism and anti-Western sentiment.
At the same time, the 27-nation bloc is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU’s biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in international conflicts and key issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.
The hope is that Biden’s meeting with Putin might pay dividends, and no one in Brussels wants to undermine the show of international unity that has been on display at the G-7 and NATO summits, according to EU officials.
In addition to scolding China, NATO leaders in their communique on Monday took a big swipe at Russia, deploring its aggressive military activities and snap wargames near the borders of NATO countries as well as the repeated violation of the 30-nations’ airspace by Russian planes.
They said Russia has ramped up “hybrid” actions against NATO countries by attempting to interfere in elections, political and economic intimidation, disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”
“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,’“ the NATO leaders wrote. “We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defense posture.”