Putin and Biden shake hands, kicking off Geneva summit

Putin and Biden shake hands, kicking off Geneva summit

Shafaq News/ U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have kicked off their high-profile summit at an 18th-century mansion in Geneva, where the two leaders are expected to talk about a range of issues amid a low-point in relations between the two countries.

Following an introduction by their host, Swiss President Guy Parmelin, Biden extended his arm for his first handshake with Putin since taking office in January.

"It's always better to meet face to face," Biden said as the two men sat down with their top diplomats, kicking off the summit, where ghosts of the Cold War hovered over modern-day US concerns about Russian cyberattacks and what the White House sees as a dangerous authoritarian drift.

Striking a positive note, Putin said he hoped the "meeting will be productive" as the tete-a-tete opened.

The setting -- a sumptuous villa overlooking Lake Geneva -- may be picturesque, but a gruelling diplomatic face-off that could last up to five hours awaits, with no food breaks planned.

"There will be no breaking of bread," a senior US official said.

The choice of Geneva, following long US-Russian negotiations, recalls the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985.

The villa, surrounded by a lush park, was under intense security. Grey patrol boats cruised along the lake front and heavily-armed camouflaged troops stood guard at a nearby yacht marina.

The classical villa's symmetrical design had made it possible to split it evenly so both leaders could have access to exactly the same amount of space, a Geneva protocol official told Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

In contrast with 1985, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly hostile, rule-breaking regime.

From cyberattacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington's list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long.

Putin, however, came to the summit arguing that Moscow is simply challenging US hegemony -- part of a bid to promote a so-called "multi-polar" world that has seen Russia draw close with the US's arguably even more powerful adversary China.

Biden, ending an intensive first foreign trip as president, arrived in Geneva after summits with NATO and the European Union in Brussels, and a G7 summit in Britain.

Asked if he was ready for Putin, Biden smiled and said: "I'm always ready."

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