President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Wednesday to resume deadlocked nuclear talks and return their ambassadors to their overseas posts, two concrete results of their summit in Geneva.
Putin said at a press conference that his talks with Biden had been “very productive” and that there had been “no hostilities” between the two.
Biden echoed this feeling at his own press conference, calling the talks “good, positive”. He added that the talks were not “held in a hyperbolic atmosphere – that’s too much of what’s going on”.
Neither Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, nor Washington’s ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, are currently at his post. Both men were recalled this spring after Biden announced a new round of US sanctions to punish Russia for a massive cyberattack on US government agencies last year.
As a result, consular operations, visas and other diplomatic services came to a virtual standstill in both countries. This collapse had an impact on industries, families and aid agencies that have links in both countries.
In February, the Biden administration extended the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia for another five years.
On Wednesday, Putin and Biden agreed that consultations on “strategic stability,” an abbreviation for nuclear arsenals, between the two nations should be resumed.
Working-level officials, not the two presidents, will determine the composition, location and frequency of these interviews.
Biden said that in practice this means “bringing our military and diplomatic experts together to take control of new and dangerous weapon systems”.
The United States and Russia will “jointly begin an integrated bilateral strategic stability dialogue in the near future. We want to lay the foundations for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” said a joint statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Twitter.
New START is currently the only arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow.
Former President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the medium-range nuclear missile treaty. Similar to the INF treaty, New START limits the nuclear arsenals of Washington and Moscow.
The United States and Russia own the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear weapons.
US President Joe Biden (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) meet for talks at Villa La Grange.
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
Biden and Putin discussed cybersecurity at length, Biden said, including a framework for a common understanding that attacks on certain targets such as critical infrastructures would be treated more seriously by both countries.
“Certain critical infrastructures should be closed to attack, cyber or other means,” said Biden. “I gave them a list, 16 specific entities that are defined as critical infrastructure under US policy, from the energy sector to water systems.”
“So we agreed to hire experts in our two countries to work on specific agreements on what is banned and investigate specific cases that originate in other countries or in one of our countries,” he said.
Biden’s proposal reflects a growing understanding by governments that no single country can stop all cyberattacks from its soil and that some countries do not want to.
By identifying critical infrastructure as locked down, Biden also circled targets that, if attacked by state or non-state actors, would likely deserve a government response.
Biden’s warning to Putin followed two targeted ransomware attacks directly targeting American citizens last month, both of which were perpetrated by criminals believed to be based in Russia.
The first was an attack on the operator of the country’s largest gas pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline, in early May. The attack forced the company to shut down an approximately 8,500-mile fuel pipeline, causing nearly half of the east coast’s fuel disruption and fuel shortages in the southeast and airline disruptions.
The second attack, this time by another Russia-based cybercriminal group, targeted JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier. The company eventually paid a $ 11 million ransom, but not before it temporarily ceased all of its U.S. operations.
Putin identified questions about the attacks and specifically mentioned the attack on the Colonial Pipeline as one with which Russia had nothing to do.
However, US officials say the notion that Putin is unaware of these attacks is not credible as he has a firm grip on Russia’s intelligence services and its more opaque network of contractors.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden ahead of the US-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva on June 16, 2021.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
Biden also said he raised the Colonial Pipeline attack directly with Putin.
“When I was talking about the pipeline that was ransomware in the US, I looked at him and said, ‘How would you feel if ransomware stole the pipelines from your oilfields?'” Biden said.
Putin replied that “it is important”.
From the start, few breakthroughs were expected from either side. Biden and Putin recently said they believe Russian-US relations have hit rock bottom since the Cold War.
Officials in Moscow and Washington have also spent months lowering expectations for the summit, and this week advisers to both leaders said it was unlikely that any deal would be reached in Geneva.
Rather than delivering concrete results, the United States saw the summit as an opportunity to build more stable and predictable relationships between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
“Both leaders showed moderate respect for one another, and the ambassadors’ return was likely a prearranged performance that looks good,” said Tom Block, Washington policy strategist at Fundstrat.
“A trip that puts the US on the same page with our allies should add to Biden’s image as a seasoned politician and leader, which is likely to be reassuring to market participants,” he said.