Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that talks with his American counterpart Joe Biden in Switzerland on Wednesday were positive and cordial in tone, and that progress was made on a number of international political issues.
Asked whether the two nations’ respective ambassadors would be returned to their posts after months of top-tier diplomatic contacts being effectively cut off amid escalating tensions, Putin revealed that an agreement had been reached. The envoys, he said, could be back in place as early as this week.
Putin added that the conversation was “constructive” and that it was not overshadowed by major questions of domestic politics. “I don’t think there was any kind of hostility,” he added, saying that there had been important discussions on collaboration in the Arctic region.
The President also described Biden as a “statesman,” saying that he was a “seasoned politician” and had approached the discussions in a positive way. “I saw for myself that Mr. Biden is a very experienced person, you don’t have such long conversations with every leader,” Putin added. Cyberattacks were expected to be raised as a major issue, with Biden having pointed the finger at the Kremlin as being behind alleged digital data breaches such as the SolarWinds hack.
However, Putin, who has consistently rejected the suggestions, argued that questions about the US’ own responsibility for online espionage had gone unanswered. “That shows what needs to be worked on,” he said.
Ukraine was also expected to be a hot topic of discussion in the lead up to the meeting, with the buildup of both Kiev’s and Moscow’s troops on either side sparking fears of a conflict earlier this year. Putin, however, said that his country’s only intention is to see the implementation of the previously-signed Minsk Agreements, intended to put an end to the conflict.
The president went on to say that Russia, unlike the US, does not station military hardware far overseas, near America’s borders. However, he pointed out that Washington’s policy is different and it has a military presence close to Russia’s frontiers, leading to escalating tensions in the region.
Putin was asked by a CNN correspondent whether Russia had committed to stop “cracking down” on domestic opposition, giving the example of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Putin, asking the media to report his answer honestly, rejected the suggestion out of hand and said that the anti-corruption campaigner had violated his parole and knew he would be arrested on his return to the country.
Biden spoke to reporters at a press conference held nearby, while Putin addressed the cameras from inside Villa la Grange, the stately manor in the Swiss city where the summit was held. However, the American leader is not expected to take questions from Russian outlets, while a number of Western media groups were invited to Putin’s briefing.
The two leaders spoke for around ninety minutes in a slimmed-back format, with only Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as translators, in attendance. After a short break, aides and other senior officials were invited in for an expanded session. Overall, the meeting lasted for only around three hours.