- The nations are trying to avoid a mistaken confrontation
- Cyber has been a point of tension for years
The meetings in Geneva include officials from the White House, State Department and FBI and will include a review of cybersecurity agreements signed in 2013 by the two countries, a senior administration official told CNN.
The meetings come in the wake of a cyber attack that crippled parts of the Ukrainian power grid in December, a breach that U.S. investigators concluded to be a first-of-its-kind confirmed cyber attack on civilian infrastructure. Senior U.S. security officials believe Russia was behind the attack, though the Obama administration has stopped short of attributing the attack to Russia.
Attributing attacks is notoriously difficult because sophisticated hackers mask where their attacks are coming from.
There's been an icy relationship between the U.S. and Russia on cyber and other issues since 2014 when Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
While Russian officials have suggested the meetings this week represent a return to normal, U.S. officials have tried to play down the status of the Geneva meetings.
"This meeting is not a restart of the Bilateral Presidential Commission working group (suspended in 2014 after Ukraine) but it is in our interest to discuss cybersecurity issues with Russia, including to review the 2013 Bilateral U.S.-Russia Cyber (confidence-building measures)," said the senior U.S. official.
One such confidence-building measure was establishment of a hotline to allow U.S. and Russian officials to talk to each other during a cybersecurity crisis.
The fear is that a cyber attack appearing to come from the other's territory could mistakenly lead to a real confrontation between the two countries.
The hotline remains in force, the senior administration official said.