Both the Kremlin and Russian state media celebrated the meeting between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden as a success on Thursday, particularly for Putin’s agenda and his hope to assert dominance on the world stage.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov – who had repeatedly batted down suggestions that the summit, held in Geneva on Wednesday, would yield substantive results for either world leader – dramatically changed his tune on Thursday, proclaiming, “Tremendous work was done.”
Putin and Biden agreed to restore ambassadors to their respective embassies, a major victory for Putin as, prior to a mass expulsion under former President Donald Trump in 2018, Russia used its embassy and consulates as espionage hubs and its “diplomats” as spies. This remains a common Russian practice around the world. Biden also agreed to support the Minsk agreements, a set of poorly executed deals nominally meant to end the Russia-fueled war in eastern Ukraine, which an “expert” told Russian news agency TASS represented a “major achievement” for Putin.
Biden received no significant concessions from Putin but insisted the summit was a success. Pressed by reporters, Biden admitted there was “no kumbaya moment” between the two leaders, then proceeded to berate reporters for asking “negative” questions. He later apologized for being a “wise guy.”
The two leaders, nonetheless, issued a brief joint statement following the meeting, celebrating that “even in periods of tension, [the two countries] are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.”
The statement applauded Biden’s concession of a five-year extension of the New START Treaty, which limits nuclear development. Evidence suggests Putin has repeatedly violated the treaty; former President Donald Trump refused to extend the treaty without including China.
Putin and Biden also promised to “embark together” on a “dialogue.”
“Even though this is a very short text, this is a joint statement on strategic stability after all,” Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said in an interview on Russian radio on Thursday. “This is, perhaps, precisely what manifests special responsibility of our two countries both to our peoples, no matter how solemnly this may sound, and to the entire world.”
Peskov proclaimed the summit had ended “with a plus sign” and the results were “rather positive.” He told reporters after the summit, however, that Russia would not yet remove America from its list of “unfriendly” countries, as “there is no reason for that yet.”
“Agreements have not been reached, and agreements could not be reached, as no one set such tasks in the first place,” Peskov noted. He told reporters the meeting was fruitful because, regarding global cyberattacks, “it was emphasized that no one blames the Russian government, and no accusations were made against the Russian side.” He added, “This is very important. We can state that we have a very positive take on that.”
Contrary to Peskov’s declaration, significant evidence suggests that criminals in Russia, though not necessarily the Kremlin itself, orchestrated some of the most damaging cyberattacks in the world in recent memory.
Prior to the summit, Peskov told reporters it would not be “historic” and no one should “expect any breakthroughs,” a significant difference in his tone following the end of the conference.
Russian state-run media more transparently declared victory. The propaganda outlet Sputnik ran a headline Thursday reading, “Putin Comes Out Looking Strong, and Biden Looks Confused.” Russia Today (RT) claimed the summit “handed both leaders a victory” but offered markedly more evidence for a Putin win than a Biden win.
“For Putin, though, the fact that the meeting was set up in the first place was a success,” an RT analysis piece read. “For an American leader’s first foreign trip to be so dominated by discussion of Russia, and for the country’s president to get top billing for the European tour, is a sign that Moscow still has global political sway.”
“The Russian president also made it clear he wouldn’t take international criticisms lying down, and would give as good as he got on the issue of human rights,” RT added, referring to Putin’s post-summit press conference in which he offered unhinged ravings comparing the many killings and poisonings of his political enemies to alleged “secret CIA prisons” and claiming that political activists in the United States “get a bullet in the back of [their] neck[s].”
RT admitted elsewhere in the piece that Biden’s conciliatory approach benefitted Russia.
“Despite the constant barrage of claims that Trump harbored secret sympathies towards Russia, a departure from his approach would not have been unwelcome in the Kremlin,” RT noted. “Putting aside some mutual curiosity, the relationship between Putin and the Republican leader never really took off, and his most bombastic officials, like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, tended to ensure that the ties between the two nations were in a state of hostility.”