One of the most highly-anticipated political events of the year is about to begin as Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Geneva on Wednesday morning for his summit with U.S. President Joe Biden.
The summit will take place at Villa La Grange in the capital of Switzerland, chosen as the location for the summit due to its history of political neutrality, and is expected to take up to five hours.
The summit includes an initial meeting between the presidents and their closest officials, and then talks between the wider Russia and U.S. delegations will be followed by separate press conferences with the two leaders.
Putin has arrived in Geneva and is expected to be first to arrive at the summit venue around midday U.K. time, senior White House officials said Tuesday, followed by Biden with both leaders greeted by the Swiss President Guy Parmelin.
The summit will begin with a first meeting between Biden and Putin accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as translators, White House officials noted.
After this initial meeting a wider delegation will meet for several sessions before both leaders give separate press conferences; Putin is expected to give the first media update, followed by Biden. No time has been set aside for a meal during the summit, but breaks for the leaders are expected.
Here’s what to expect from Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva
The Putin-Biden summit is being closely watched around the world as U.S.-Russia relations remain tense following a slew of geopolitical clashes and international sanctions in recent years.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 got it suspended from the then-Group of Eight and earned it international sanctions. Since then Russia has been accused of 2016 U.S. election meddling, two nerve agent attacks (in the U.K. in 2018 and allegedly on Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader and Putin critic, in 2020) as well as involvement in cyberattacks and human rights abuses.
Russia has always denied the multiple accusations leveled against it, saying it is a victim of anti-Russian sentiment in the West.
The summit comes hot on the heels of a flurry of American diplomacy with its allies in Europe and beyond. Biden visited the U.K. for the Group of Seven summit last weekend, then a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday and then an EU-U.S. summit on Tuesday, giving the U.S. leader plenty of food for thought for his meeting with Putin.
The agenda for the presidents’ meeting is expected to include “strategic stability,” climate change as well as nuclear stability and cybersecurity and potentially a range of other topics including the fate of Navalny, Ukraine, Belarus and the outlook for Russian and U.S. nationals imprisoned in each other’s countries.
No ‘big set of deliverables’
On Tuesday, a senior White House official said the Biden administration was “not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting” but three basic things.
“First, a clear set of taskings about areas where working together can advance our national interest and make the world safer. Second, a clear laydown of the areas of America’s vital national interests, where Russian activities that run counter to those interests will be met with a response,” he said.
Israeli aircraft carried out a series of airstrikes at militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, the first such raids since a shaky cease-fire ended the war with Hamas last month.
The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks, the Israeli military said, blaming the group for any act of violence emanating from Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,” paraded in east Jerusalem in a show of force that threatened to spark renewed violence. Palestinians in Gaza responded by launching incendiary balloons that caused at least 10 fires in southern Israel.
The march posed a test for Israel’s fragile new government as well as the tenuous truce that ended last month’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
Palestinians consider the march, meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in 1967, to be a provocation. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the parade, a version of which helped ignite last month’s 11-day Gaza war.
With music blaring, hundreds of Jewish nationalists gathered and moved in front of Damascus Gate. Most appeared to be young men, and many held blue-and-white Israeli flags as they danced and sang religious songs.
At one point, several dozen youths, jumping and waving their hands in their air, chanted: “Death to Arabs!” In another anti-Arab chant, they yelled: “May your village burn.”
In a scathing condemnation on Twitter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said those shouting racist slogans were “a disgrace to the Israeli people,” adding: “The fact that there are radicals for whom the Israeli flag represents hatred and racism is abominable and unforgivable.”
The crowd, while boisterous, appeared to be much smaller than during last month’s parade. From the Damascus Gate, they proceeded around the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.
Ahead of the march, Israeli police cleared the area in front of Damascus Gate, shut down roads to traffic, ordered shops to close and sent away young Palestinian protesters. Police said that officers arrested 17 people suspected of involvement in violence, some of whom threw rocks and attacked police, and that two police officers needed medical treatment. Palestinians said five people were hurt in clashes with police.
The parade provided an early challenge for Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, a hardline Israeli nationalist who has promised a pragmatic approach as he presides over a delicate, diverse coalition government.
“And third, a clear explication of the President’s vision for American values and our national priorities,” he said. The official added that, as for talking points with Putin, “for the American President, nothing is off the table.”
Given the adversarial nature of the U.S. and Russia’s relationship in recent years, analysts see little chance of “breakthrough” moments at the Geneva summit.
Read more: Biden and Putin are about to have a high-stakes meeting: Here’s what you need to know
Still, the meeting is seen as a chance to calm relations and introduce some much needed stability into affairs.
“This is an attempt to stabilize the situation,” Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform, told CNBC Wednesday. “The slogan from the Americans has been that they want predictability and stability in the relationship and it has been on a downward spiral, things have been getting worse.”
Still, Bond did not think that there would be a return to “business as usual” with Putin unlikely to change, particularly given domestic pressures due to the Covid crisis and its impact on the Russian economy and living standards.
“It makes sense for him (Putin) to try and keep his adversaries off balance and guessing what his next move will be,” Bond noted. “The Americans will try and impose more framework on this relationship but I’m not sure they will necessarily succeed.”