STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

A big loss for Putin

Article Image

Fiona Hill, former President Trump's top Russia adviser, talks to CNN's Don Lemon about the summit with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018.

Posted: Jun 17, 2021 12:00 AM
Updated: Jun 17, 2021 12:00 AM

The visuals, the body language and the setting all converged to help President Joe Biden achieve what he wanted — not only from his much-hyped summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — but from a week of pivotal meetings with US allies.

From the start of the Geneva summit, Biden looked confident and relaxed. In contrast, Putin, who has made an art of appearing smug and almost bored, looked tense and on his guard. Then Biden took the initiative, extending his hand first to Putin, who walked over to grasp it.

The summit mattered, of course, but it was in the dueling press conferences where Putin helped Biden achieve his objectives. That's because Biden's meeting with Putin had two goals. One was about managing US relations with Russia. The other was the overarching theme of his European trip and, in fact, of Biden's presidency: strengthening democracy by drawing a sharp distinction between it and authoritarianism, all the while persuading the world that democracy is the superior model.

In his press conference, Putin, in true autocratic form, took responsibility for nothing and tried ham-handedly to defend himself from accusations of human rights abuses by highlighting social problems in the United States. Perhaps after years of repressing an independent media in Russia, he has lost his ability to answer tough questions, such as those asked by American journalists.

"If all of your political opponents are dead, in prison, poisoned" an ABC News reporter asked, "doesn't that send a message that you don't want a fair political fight?" But Putin, once again, sidestepped the question, comparing January 6 insurrectionists in the US with democratic dissidents his government is repressing in Russia — a comparison Biden rightly called "ridiculous."

While Putin answered every question about repression and human rights with his classic whataboutism, talking about all that's wrong with the US, Biden, when he spoke to the media, explained that he told Putin his agenda is "not against Russia" but "for the American people" — adding that means he still has a responsibility to speak about human rights.

Critics said Biden erred by raising Putin's standing with a global summit. After all, Putin is the autocratic leader of a shrinking economy a little bigger than Spain's and a per capita income smaller than Costa Rica's. But Russia, a nuclear armed country, has become an active enemy of democracy in the West. It works to discredit the system and make it dysfunctional. And it has succeeded to such an extent that much of the Republican Party now propagates the kind of disinformation Russian hackers used to have to work hard to pump

By meeting with Putin, and letting him showcase his signature evasive style, Biden was able to use the Russian president as a prop — a show-and-tell for his campaign to demonstrate that authoritarianism is a malign force.

Yes, the two leaders reached some agreements, such as allowing withdrawn ambassadors to return to their assigned capitals and committing to launching a "strategic dialogue" to prevent an accidental war. They will also seek progress on nuclear arms control, possible prisoner releases and other areas.

Still, overall, the meeting was a loss for Putin, who sounded defensive and cryptic. He refused to utter opposition leader Alexei Navalny's name, blaming him for his own predicament amid a slew of falsehoods, and he denied any responsibility for recent cyberattacks in the US.

And yet, he went out of his way to say he respects Biden, calling him "an experienced statesman... very different from President Trump" — a comparison sure to hurt his predecessor.

Biden looked satisfied when it was all over, appearing convinced that he had drawn some clear red lines in the roughly 160 minutes of face-to-face meetings.

The visual contrast could not have been sharper from the last US-Russia summit, the Russian president so self-satisfied, the US president, looking cowed and making such counterproductive comments that Trump's own adviser at the time, Fiona Hill, said she considered faking a medical emergency — "a loud blood-curdling scream" — to make it stop. Instead of the acquiescent, slumping former president, Biden looked invigorated against the bright outdoor backdrop. He explained why it's important for the two countries to work together where possible and to try to manage their differences when they can't.

Biden said he gave Putin a list of 16 key American entities — defined as critical infrastructure — that are off-limits for cyberattacks. As he prepared to leave, a reporter asked him if a "military response" by the United States would be an option for a ransomware attack. His answer: "We didn't discuss a military response." However, if Navalny dies in prison, Biden warned, "the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia."

In what looked like a slip up, the US president did lose his temper near the end of his presser. CNN's Kaitlan Collins had asked why he's confident Putin will change his behavior, and Biden snapped back, "I'm not confident he'll change his behavior." He later said he shouldn't have been "such a wise guy" and owed Collins an apology.

Putin may have felt he secured the image he craves, that of an equal to the United States. But widen the lens beyond Geneva, beyond Russia, and this summit was a part of a larger Biden agenda.

"I did what I came to do," he declared before heading back home.

And with that, Biden wrapped up his first international trip, having started the process of fortifying the alliances Trump had eroded, raising the world's trust in US leadership and successfully drawing a contrast between an autocratic, repressive leader — in power because he has crushed his opponents — and a democratically elected one, battling the anti-democratic forces at home and abroad.

Terre Haute
Mostly Cloudy
87° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 99°
Robinson
Partly Cloudy
87° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 103°
Indianapolis
Cloudy
87° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 96°
Rockville
Cloudy
85° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 101°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
86° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 100°
Brazil
Mostly Cloudy
87° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 99°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
87° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 99°
Heat Advisory This Afternoon
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1415572

Reported Deaths: 25853
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook56308410559
DuPage937531321
Will781251042
Lake692061027
Kane60105816
Winnebago34719524
Madison32433533
St. Clair30073526
McHenry29590299
Peoria23726346
Champaign21601158
Sangamon19672245
McLean18864194
Tazewell17508308
Rock Island15398329
Kankakee14754224
Kendall1349999
LaSalle12968254
Macon11193215
DeKalb10286122
Vermilion10247154
Adams9635128
Williamson8165138
Whiteside7249174
Boone694280
Ogle629884
Grundy605879
Clinton591993
Coles5872101
Knox5735157
Jackson546465
Henry516070
Macoupin498790
Livingston494394
Woodford492683
Stephenson488186
Franklin487879
Effingham483274
Marion4782118
Jefferson4668123
Monroe452394
Randolph432587
Lee424054
Morgan413793
Fulton410959
Logan407366
Christian394875
Bureau386187
Montgomery385274
Iroquois330168
Perry328662
Fayette326856
McDonough305751
Jersey279552
Saline272057
Douglas263736
Union250241
Lawrence245027
Shelby236138
Crawford219026
Bond213624
Cass210727
Carroll204937
Pike201453
Ford194950
Hancock194132
Clark190734
Wayne190153
Warren186750
Jo Daviess183524
Richland181740
White180626
Edgar179842
Washington169625
Moultrie168128
Mason164247
De Witt161429
Piatt156314
Johnson155416
Clay155043
Greene153534
Mercer152434
Wabash148612
Massac143740
Cumberland131119
Menard128412
Jasper116918
Marshall110819
Hamilton90316
Schuyler8147
Brown8116
Pulaski7437
Stark66425
Edwards63612
Calhoun5422
Henderson53414
Gallatin5064
Scott5051
Putnam4943
Alexander48911
Hardin39612
Pope3404
Unassigned662433
Out of IL150

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429