After spending much of his first trip abroad working to rebuild and strengthen America’s alliances in Europe, President Biden is meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday in a summit freighted with history and fraught with new challenges.
Mr. Putin, who flew in from Sochi, Russia, arrived first for the meeting, which is taking place in an 18th-century Swiss villa perched above Lake Geneva. A short time later, Mr. Biden’s motorcade pulled up — Russian, American and Swiss flags waving in the breeze under a blue sky — with the United States entourage.
The two leaders were greeted by President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland, who welcomed them to Geneva, “the city of peace.”
“I wish you both presidents a fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the world,” he said.
Mr. Biden turned to Mr. Putin, holding out his hand; Mr. Putin took a step toward him and shook it. They then moved into an ornate library, where both men sat stone-faced and mostly in silence as members of the news media jostled to get into the room.
“I would like to thank you for the initiative to meet today,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Biden. “Still, U.S.-Russian relations have accumulated a lot of issues that require a meeting at the highest level, and I hope that our meeting will be productive.”
Mr. Biden said a few words before the camera crews were ushered out and the leaders moved into private sessions that could stretch for five hours. The two sides will engage in difficult topics ranging from military threats to human rights concerns.
During the Cold War, the prospect of nuclear annihilation led to historic treaties and a framework that kept the world from blowing itself up. At this meeting, for the first time, cyberweapons — with their own huge potential to wreak havoc — are at the center of the agenda.
While there is no expectation that the two sides will agree on formal rules to navigate the digital landscape, both Washington and Moscow have talked about a desire for stability. Mr. Biden is expected to single out the rising scourge of ransomware, much of it emanating from Russia, although Mr. Putin is expected to deny having anything to do with it.
The White House has said that Mr. Biden will also raise the issues of Mr. Putin’s repression of his domestic political opposition, Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine and foreign election interference.
The Kremlin has said that there are areas of common ground, like climate change, where the two sides can find agreement. And for Mr. Putin, the symbolism of the summit itself is important to demonstrate the respect he seeks on the world stage.
Henry Kissinger once said that Americans vacillated between despair and euphoria in their view of the Soviet Union, and the same could be said of Russia under Mr. Putin, who has spent the past two decades tightening his grip on power.
As the two leaders sit down in the Swiss villa, no meals will be served during hours of discussions, and there is little chance of euphoria.
The optimism expressed by President George W. Bush after a 2001 summit in Slovenia, where he said he was “able to get a sense of his soul” and found Mr. Putin “trustworthy,” faded long ago.
Mr. Biden began his trip a week ago in Britain saying that the United States would respond in a “robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin. The Russian leader, whose advisers have spoken of a new Cold War, told NBC News on Friday that it was a “relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.”
It is the first summit meeting since President Donald J. Trump flew to Helsinki to meet Mr. Putin in 2018 and declared at a joint news conference that he trusted the word of the Russian leader as much as his own intelligence agencies when it came to election interference.
Mr. Putin said Mr. Biden was “radically different” from Mr. Trump, calling him a “career man.”
Mr. Biden has argued that a new existential battle is underway between democracy and autocracy, and with Mr. Putin on the vanguard of the autocrats, the American leader faced criticism from some quarters for even holding the summit.
“The bottom line,” Mr. Biden said in a news conference before the meeting, “is that I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet.”
Wednesday’s Geneva summit got off to an auspicious start: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia landed on time.
His plane landed at about 12:30 p.m., an hour before he was set to meet President Biden, who had arrived in Geneva the previous evening. Mr. Putin is known for making world leaders wait — sometimes hours — for his arrival, one way to telegraph confidence and leave an adversary on edge.
But this time Mr. Putin appears not to have resorted to scheduling brinkmanship.
The summit’s start was laced with delicate choreography: Mr. Putin arrived first, straight from the airport, and was greeted on the red carpet in front of a lakeside villa by President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland. About 15 minutes later, Mr. Biden arrived in his motorcade, shook hands with Mr. Parmelin and waved to reporters.
The Swiss president welcomed the two leaders, wishing them “fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the whole world.” He then stepped aside, allowing Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin to approach each other, smiling, and shake hands.
Russian officials on Wednesday sought to put a positive last-minute spin on the meeting.
“This is an extremely important day,” a deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency hours before the summit’s start. “The Russian side in preparing for the summit has done the utmost for it to turn out positive and have results that will allow the further deterioration of the bilateral relationship to be halted, and to begin moving upwards.”
Even before Mr. Putin landed, members of his delegation had arrived at the lakeside villa where the meeting is being held. They included Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, who is joining Mr. Putin in a small-group session with Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at the start of the summit; and Valery V. Gerasimov, Russia’s most senior military officer.
Police officers from across Switzerland — the words “police,” “Polizei” and “polizia” on their uniforms reflecting the country’s multilingual cantons — cordoned off much of the center of Geneva on Wednesday.
The city’s normally bustling lakefront was off limits, and the park where President Biden and Mr. Putin were to meet was protected by razor wire and at least one armored personnel carrier.
Inside the leafy Parc la Grange, overlooking Lake Geneva, the police directed journalists to two separate press centers — one for those covering Mr. Putin, one for those covering Mr. Biden. As the reporters waited for the leaders to arrive, a Russian radio reporter went on air and intoned that Lake Geneva had become “a lake of hope.”
What They Want
President Biden and his aides have been careful to lower expectations for the blockbuster part of his first trip abroad as president: his meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior administration official told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president flew from Brussels to Geneva on Tuesday ahead of the summit.
But that doesn’t mean that the administration and the president have not thought about what they hope to achieve by giving Mr. Putin an international platform — something that critics on both the left and the right have said was a mistake for Mr. Biden to do.
Here are five outcomes that the president and the White House are looking for:
To look strong on human rights
Since taking office, Mr. Biden has received criticism for not taking a stronger stand on human rights. Some critics say he has not responded forcefully enough to the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, a dissident and Putin critic.
The White House disputes that criticism. But the administration sees the meeting with Mr. Putin as an opportunity to challenge the Russian leader on his treatment of Mr. Navalny and his country’s support of Belarus, which detained a journalist by forcing down a passenger plane.
To be the anti-Trump
Part of Mr. Biden’s sales pitch during the 2020 presidential campaign was that he would turn his predecessor’s approach to Russia on its head.
Now, after four years in which Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia were continuously scrutinized, Mr. Biden and his top advisers are eager to present the president as a Moscow skeptic — someone who will not take Mr. Putin at his word as Mr. Trump famously did at a 2018 summit in Helsinki.
The Geneva meeting gives Mr. Biden the chance to draw that contrast explicitly and to be seen as standing up to the Russian president in ways that his predecessor did not. (One difference: Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin will not stand side by side in a joint news conference, a decision that American officials made early on, in the hopes of not giving the Russian leader a chance to try to outshine Mr. Biden.)
To take on cyberattacks
American intelligence officials say the Russian government has expanded its use of cyberattacks against the West, and the United States is one of the key targets.
Administration officials say Mr. Biden is determined to deliver a stern message to Mr. Putin about the use of cyberweapons and the dangers of an escalating online war.
To avoid rocking the boat
Mr. Biden and the administration have been careful to deliver a nuanced message about what kind of relationship they want with Russia and its leader. The phrase they use the most: “predictability and stability.”
Those are not words that evoke the image of a president bracing for an all-out fight with an adversary. In fact, White House officials have repeatedly said that Mr. Biden hopes to work with Russia where possible, even as he stands up to Mr. Putin in other areas.
That may prove the trickiest part of the summit.
To make some concrete progress
If he can find that balance, Mr. Biden is hoping to make some modest progress.
The two leaders might be able to further efforts to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They might also work together in the Middle East, where Russia helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal. And Mr. Biden has also said he wants Russia to be part of global efforts to combat climate change.
What They Want
President Vladimir V. Putin has long sought the West’s respect. Now, as he meets with his fifth United States president since taking power, he will have a rare opportunity to get it.
“Putin’s goal is to transition to a respectful adversarial relationship from the disrespectful one we have today,” said Vladimir Frolov, a Russian foreign affairs columnist. “That seems to be in line with Biden’s objectives for a ‘predictable and stable relationship.’”
Russia’s hopes for a thaw in relations during the Trump administration were dashed by sanctions, tensions and tumultuous American leadership. Russian officials now see a chance to change the course of the relationship that is plumbing its post-Cold War depths.
In an interview with NBC before the summit, Mr. Putin praised President Biden for his political experience, something that Mr. Putin’s supporters, nostalgic for a time when their country was an undisputed superpower and treated with respect by the United States, hope could be a sign of the old days.
“This is a different man,” Mr. Putin said of Mr. Biden.
There is little expectation that the summit will radically reframe the relationship, but supporters and critics of Mr. Putin hope that it will at least stop its downward spiral. And there is the sense that Mr. Biden is prepared to engage broadly with Mr. Putin despite his concerns about the treatment of the jailed opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.
Critics, including an aide to Mr. Navalny, say the summit, which comes ahead of Russian parliamentary elections and as Mr. Putin faces hits to popularity at home, is mostly a photo op.
“He does not plan on signing any agreements,” the aide, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Facebook. “He’s coming, essentially, for one photo, literally like fans dream of a selfie with their idol.”
But even some Putin critics inside Russia hope that he and Mr. Biden find some common ground.
“If they manage to come to agreements on certain things, and there’s a sense in the Kremlin that this was a first step, then this could provide a big incentive to reduce persecution inside the country,” said Ivan I. Kurilla, an expert on Russian-American relations in St. Petersburg and a frequent Kremlin critic. “If Biden comes to Geneva and reads Putin a lecture about human rights and goes home, then I suspect Putin will do everything the other way around.”
With Donald J. Trump in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.
With Barack Obama in New York in 2015.
With George W. Bush in Washington in 2005.
With Bill Clinton in Moscow in 2000.
In the United States, fireworks lit up the night sky in New York City on Tuesday, a celebration meant to demonstrate the end of coronavirus restrictions. California, the most populous state, has fully opened its economy. And President Biden said there would be a gathering at the White House on July 4, marking what America hopes will be freedom from the pandemic.
Yet this week the country’s death toll also surpassed 600,000 — a staggering loss of life.
In Russia, officials frequently say that the country has handled the coronavirus crisis better than the West and that there have been no large-scale lockdowns since last summer.
But in the week that President Vladimir V. Putin is meeting with Mr. Biden for a one-day summit, Russia has been gripped by a vicious new wave of Covid-19. Hours before the start of the summit on Wednesday, the city of Moscow announced that it would be mandating coronavirus vaccinations for workers in service and other industries.
“We simply must do all we can to carry out mass vaccination in the shortest possible time period and stop this terrible disease,” Sergey S. Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said in a blog post. “We must stop the dying of thousands of people.”
It was a reversal from prior comments from Mr. Putin, who said on May 26 that “mandatory vaccination would be impractical and should not be done.”
Mr. Putin said on Saturday that 18 million people had been inoculated in the country — less than 13 percent of the population, even though Russia’s Sputnik V shots have been widely available for months.
While the robust United States vaccination campaign has sped the nation’s recovery, the virus has repeatedly confounded expectations. The inoculation campaign has also slowed in recent weeks.
Unlike many of the issues raised at Wednesday’s summit, and despite the scientific achievement that safe and effective vaccines represent, the virus follows its own logic — mutating and evolving — and continues to pose new and unexpected challenges for both leaders and the world at large.
After President Biden meets his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, the two men will not face the news media at a joint news conference, United States officials say.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will speak first, followed by Mr. Biden, in separate news conferences, a move intended by the White House to deny the Russian leader an international platform like the one he received during a 2018 summit in Helsinki with President Donald J. Trump.
“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward, and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting,” a U.S. official said in a statement sent to reporters this weekend, “both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns.”
Top aides to Mr. Biden said that during negotiations over the meetings the Russian government was eager to have Mr. Putin join Mr. Biden in a news conference. But Biden administration officials said that they were mindful of how Mr. Putin seemed to get the better of Mr. Trump in Helsinki.
At that news conference, Mr. Trump publicly accepted Mr. Putin’s assurances that his government did not interfere with the 2016 election, taking the Russian president’s word rather than the assessments of his own intelligence officials.
The spectacle in 2018 drew sharp condemnations from across the political spectrum for providing an opportunity for Mr. Putin to spread falsehoods. Senator John McCain at the time called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
A storied villa on the shores of Lake Geneva is sometimes described as having “a certain sense of mystery about it,” but there was little mystery this week about why the mansion and the park surrounding it were closed off.
Visitors were coming.
The Villa la Grange, an 18th-century manor house at the center of Parc la Grange, is the site of the meeting on Wednesday between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin.
Set in one of Geneva’s largest and most popular parks, the site is known not just for its lush gardens, but also for its role as a setting for important moments in the struggle between war and peace.
In 1825, the villa’s library — home to over 15,000 works and the only room to retain the villa’s original decorative features — hosted dignitaries of a European gathering that aimed to help Greeks fighting for independence.
Designed by the architect Jean-Louis Bovet and completed in 1773, the villa was owned by the Lullin family and primarily used as a summer residence before it was bought by a merchant, François Favre, in 1800.
It cemented its place in history in 1864, when is was the site of a closing gala for officials who signed the original 1864 Geneva Convention, presided over by Henri Dunant, a founder of the International Red Cross. An attempt to ameliorate the ravages of war on both soldiers and civilians, it set minimum protections for people who are victims of armed conflict.
After World War II, a new draft of the conventions was signed in an attempt to address gaps in international humanitarian law that the conflict had exposed.
In 1969, Pope Paul VI, who traveled to the park to celebrate Mass for a congregation of tens of thousands, pointed to the villa’s history as he spoke about the risk of nuclear conflagration.
He spoke about the opposing forces of love and hate and called for “generous peacemakers.”
If President Biden wants an example of a summit that did not go according to plan, he need only look back to 2018.
That year, President Donald J. Trump flew to Helsinki to meet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first face-to-face meeting between the two and a highly anticipated moment given the then-ongoing investigations of Russian interference and cooperation with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
It might have been a chance for Mr. Trump to push back against those accusations by offering a forceful denunciation of Russia’s actions in private, and again during a joint news conference by the two men.
Instead, standing on the stage by Mr. Putin’s side, Mr. Trump dismissed the conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian meddling and said, in essence, that he believed Mr. Putin more than he did the C.I.A. and other key advisers
“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.” He added that he didn’t see any reason Russia would have been responsible for hacks during the 2016 election. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
It was the kind of jaw-dropping assertion that U.S. administrations usually strive to avoid in the middle of highly scripted presidential summits. Critics lashed out at Mr. Trump for undermining his own government and for giving aid and comfort to an adversary. Even Republican allies of the president issued harsh denunciations.
“It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump.
There was nothing about the one day Helsinki summit that was normal. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump were so chummy that the Russian president gave Mr. Trump a soccer ball to take home as a gift. Mr. Trump thanked him and bounced the ball to Melania Trump, the first lady, in the front row, saying he would take it home to give it to his son, Barron.
(Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary at the time, later issued a statement saying that the ball — like all gifts — had been examined to make sure it had not been bugged with listening devices.)
In a statement issued as Mr. Biden headed to Europe last week, Mr. Trump once again called his meeting with Mr. Putin “great and very productive” and he defended supporting the Russian president over his intelligence aides.
“As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our ‘Intelligence’ from the Obama era,” he said in a statement. “The answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious. Our government has rarely had such lowlifes as these working for it.”
The former president also took a cheap shot at his successor in the statement, warning him not to “fall asleep during the meeting.”
One thing is almost certain — Mr. Biden is not going to follow through on Mr. Trump’s request that when Mr. Biden meets with Mr. Putin “please give him my warmest regards!”
President Biden’s meeting on Wednesday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is tightly choreographed, with no planned “breaking of bread” — underscoring a sharp departure from the chummy, unscripted, unsupervised interactions between Mr. Putin and President Donald J. Trump.
One of the main topics of the meeting in Geneva is the future of the New Start treaty, which limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the flight from Brussels.
Mr. Biden plans to confront Mr. Putin, whom he has referred to as a killer, about recent ransomware attacks on U.S. companies and government agencies, and he will demand that Moscow stop harboring criminal hacking groups operating on Russian soil. He will also outline responses if state-directed or private hacks emanating from Russia continue, the official said.
Mr. Biden is also likely to raise the issue of the detention of Aleksei A. Navalny, the ailing opposition leader.
“Nothing is off the table,” said the official, who cautioned that the White House was “not expecting a big set of deliverables” from the meeting.
No meals are planned, so there will be “no breaking of bread,” the official said.
Mr. Biden’s detailed itinerary — or even the existence of a detailed public schedule at all — is a contrast from Mr. Trump’s unscripted conversations with Mr. Putin, which included a lengthy chat with the Russian leader in Hamburg in 2017, which was not disclosed until after the fact.
On Monday, Mr. Biden set a sober tone for the meeting, warning Mr. Putin that the death of Mr. Navalny, one of the Russian president’s most outspoken opponents, would hobble Russia’s already strained relationships with world leaders.
“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” Mr. Biden said at a news conference following the NATO summit.
“It would be a tragedy,” he added. “It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”
The most pressing, vexing item on President Biden’s agenda while in Europe may be managing the United States’ relationship with a disruptive Russia. He has sought support from allies to that end, but no part of the trip is more fraught than the daylong meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday.
Upon arriving in Britain last week before meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden said the world was at “an inflection point,” with democratic nations needing to stand together to combat a rising tide of autocracies.
“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” he said.
Turning to Russia specifically, he pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.
Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in Western elections and are widely believed to have used chemical weapons against perceived enemies on Western soil and in Russia. Russian hackers have been blamed for cyberattacks that have damaged Western economies and government agencies. Russian forces are supporting international pariahs in bloody conflicts — separatists in Ukraine and President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
Mr. Putin has a powerful military and boasts of exotic new weapons systems, but experts on the dynamics between Washington and Moscow say that disruption is his true power.
“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was United States ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders will argue about a lot of things but continue the dialogue.”
Mr. Biden’s associates say he will also convey that he has seen Mr. Putin’s bravado before and that it doesn’t faze him.
“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama and whose wife and brother are key aides to Mr. Biden. “You’re not going to have this inexplicable reluctance of a U.S. president to criticize a Russian president who is leading a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t have that.”