GENEVA, Switzerland — President Joe Biden is placing a big bet that he can do what his immediate predecessors couldn’t: forge a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin based on skepticism and stability.
Biden isn’t overly optimistic about what can be accomplished when the two world leaders get together on Wednesday. But according to interviews with six current and former administration officials, he plans to take a tough line with Putin while maybe even eliciting a concession or two from the Russian leader. Such benefits, his team has calculated, are well worth the incoming flak from Republicans that they are getting for agreeing to the meeting in the first place.
“He sees it as kind of a calculated risk and isn’t that concerned about it,” a former Biden aide said. “If it turned into some huge scandal or something, that’s one matter, but just the meeting in itself, I’m not sure he’s that worried about a couple days of people on Twitter.”
Biden has been preparing for the highly-anticipated meeting while in Europe — speaking to other world leaders and consulting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other policy experts. Biden has gotten solid reviews for his discussions with other world leaders, many of whom have welcomed him following four years of a disruptive Donald Trump. And his team is hoping to use the restrengthening of international cooperation and institutions as a cudgel against Putin.
Biden also has some experience to lean on heading into his Putin one-on-one. He has gone out of his way to meet and push back on authoritarian figures throughout his decades-long career. In 1993, he confronted Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia and Yugoslavia, telling him: “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one.”