Putin gave Biden $12,000 pen set months before Ukraine invasion
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Joe Biden a $12,000 pen and decorative writing set at their first presidential summit in Geneva in 2021 during a momentary thaw in relations that ended with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine eight months later.
The writing set was the most expensive gift Biden received from a foreign leader that year. It was described in an annual report from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol as a “Kholuy” lacquer miniature workshop desk writing set and pen.
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The gift exchange came during a 2.5-hour summit in Geneva in June 2021 that now sits as a high-water mark in US-Russian relations that then deteriorated in the run-up to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
The White House said at the time that Biden had given Putin a pair of his trademark aviator sunglasses and a glass sculpture of an American bison, but neither the White House nor the Kremlin disclosed Putin’s gift at the time.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2021 gave Biden a US flag, estimated to be worth $700, according to the report, which details gifts from foreign governments to federal employees.
The exchange of personal gifts can be a revealing part of international statecraft, often showcasing the personalities of both the giver and the recipient. During Donald Trump’s administration, foreign leaders wooed the president, with gifts including a Louis Vuitton golf bag from French President Emmanuel Macron and a gold-framed portrait of Trump himself from then-Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Among the gifts disclosed in Biden’s first report are a Dupont fountain pen from Macron, a solar wristwatch from former Swiss President Guy Parmelin, and a pen drawing of Biden’s childhood home from then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The late Queen Elizabeth II gave Biden a picture of herself.
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was perhaps Biden’s most prolific gifter: He gave Biden two dog bowls, two wool blankets, a ceramic cup and mug set, a fountain pen with a bottle of Oxford blue ink and a photograph of a Frederick Douglass mural in Edinburgh.
Because the gifts belong to the US government and not the recipient, most gifts are transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration for safe keeping. But there are exceptions: Secretary of State Antony Blinken reimbursed the government $1,457 to purchase gifts he received from Pope Francis, including a bas-relief depicting a migrant mother with a child.
Read more: A new cold war between Biden and Putin
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