President Joe Biden said Sunday he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that relations between the US and Russia are at a “low point,” days before the two leaders are scheduled to hold a highly anticipated summit in Geneva.
“I think he is right, it’s a low point. And it depends on how he responds to acting consistent with international norms, which, in many cases, he has not,” Biden told reporters at a news conference before departing the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall.
In a clip of an interview with NBC aired on Friday night, Putin told NBC News’ Keir Simmons in Moscow, “We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.” They echoed a comment from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told CNN that that Putin wanted to meet with Biden precisely because of the poor state of relations between the two nations.
Biden said the US is “not looking for conflict” and said there may be a “strategic doctrine” that the countries could agree on that touches on areas like the climate crisis.
“We are looking to resolve those actions which we think are inconsistent with international norms, number one. Number two, where we can work together, we may be able to do that in terms of some strategic doctrine that may be able to be worked together, we’re ready to do it. There may be other areas. There is even talk there may be the ability to work together on climate,” Biden said.
Biden defended the decision not to hold a joint news conference with Putin after their high stakes meeting, arguing such an appearance would only serve to detract from the US’ goal of working toward a stable and predictable relationship with Russia.
“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other. It’s about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship are with Russia,”
The President said: “I don’t want to get into being diverted by did they shake hands, how far did they, who talked the most and the rest. Now he can say what he said the meeting was about and I will say what I think the meeting was about. That’s how I’m going to handle it.”
Biden plans to address the strained US-Russia diplomatic relationship when he meets with Putin on Wednesday with the hope that the two leaders can agree to send their ambassadors back to Washington and Moscow after months with no senior diplomat being present in either country, CNN has reported.
Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer and US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Not having an ambassador in either country has made conducting basic diplomacy even more difficult at a time when relations are already severely strained.
The US imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in April and announced it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s election interference, cyberattacks, human rights abuses and the ongoing occupation of Crimea. In response, Russia announced that it was sanctioning eight senior US government officials, expelling 10 US diplomats and imposing sharp restrictions on personnel at the US Embassy.
When questioned why Putin hasn’t appeared to change his behavior after those sanctions, Biden laughed.
“He’s Vladimir Putin,” Biden said.
He added, “I’m not gonna get into much more than that because I’ve got to sit down with him but I’ll be happy to talk after that.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the summit with Putin was the start of finding out whether the relationship between the two countries can get better.
“This is a beginning of testing the proposition, the question of whether Russia is interested in a more stable and predictable relationship and finding areas to work together. We’re not going to get the answer out of one meeting. We’ll have to see what comes from that meeting.” Blinken said.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.