A “murderer” without a “soul” whose government is “paranoid.”
This is what US President Joe Biden has previously described to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Over the past decade, Putin has become one of the most irritating thorns on the White House side.
The Kremlin has irritated and aggravated the United States with, according to Washington, a threat to invade Ukraine, an accumulation of weapons, hacker attacks and electoral intrusions.
On Wednesday, Putin and Biden meet again in Geneva to hold their first summit amid worn-out ties, growing Western pressure on Moscow and Russia’s widespread repression of internal dissent.
But while Putin is known for his salty language and harsh responses to his beard, he prefers to speak of Biden with cautious and almost flattering optimism.
“During my tenure, I have become accustomed to attacks from all sorts of angles and from all sorts of areas under all sorts of pretexts,” he said. dit Friday with a laugh, answering a question from an NBC correspondent about being a “killer.”
A week earlier, Putin said that Biden “is an experienced man, I hope, very balanced, very precise. I really hope that our meeting will be positive ”.
Like Biden, Putin, who has met with four U.S. presidents since 1999, also keeps his expectations low at the summit.
“I don’t expect any progress in Russian-American ties, nothing that will surprise us all with the results,” he said.
Ukraine is by far the biggest bone of contention.
In March and early April, Putin gathered tens of thousands of troops in annexed Crimea and along Russia’s border with Ukraine and its two pro-Russian separatist regions.
For a time, a war seemed imminent, until Biden called Putin on April 13 to tell him to ease tensions and offered to meet in Geneva making an apparent gesture to the Russian leader.
Biden knows Ukraine better than other American presidents in history: he visited the former Soviet nation six times and joked that he spent more time on the phone with then-President Petro Poroshenko than with his wife.
“Biden’s meeting with Putin will only solve one issue: how not to allow a real war,” Gennady Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker turned opposition leader, told Al Jazeera.
However, Alexey Mukhin, who heads the Moscow-based Political Information Center, argues that Biden will avoid discussing Ukraine because of his son Hunter’s secure work at a Ukrainian energy company that triggered pressure from him. former President Donald Trump over Kiev and, in turn, resulted in the first removal of Trump.
“Joe Biden will not push the Ukrainian issue because of certain circumstances of corruption related to his son,” Mukhin told Al Jazeera.
From the North Pole to Damascus
Mukhin believes two very distant places, the Arctic and Syria, will dominate the talks as possible areas of cooperation.
Over the next two years, Moscow will hold the rotating presidency of the Arctic Council of Nations bordering the region, where the melting of the ice opens up new sea routes that can compete with the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca.
Western sanctions on Crimea included a ban on the export of offshore drilling technologies Russia needs to obtain its share of the Arctic Bonanza containing up to 90 billion barrels of oil and natural gas fields, which exceed proven reserves of Qatar.
Meanwhile, Moscow is increasing its military presence in the Arctic despite six-month nights and nine-month winters, because the region provides the shortest route for Russia’s ballistic missiles to North America, or vice versa.
“We are concerned about some of the recent military activities in the Arctic,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in mid-May.
As for Syria, Moscow surprised the world with its military intervention to save President Bashar Assad and Washington understands that only cooperation with Moscow will help resolve the conflict.
Some analysts are confident that Putin will sacrifice Assad if the West guarantees not to invade Moscow’s renewed influence on the war-ravaged nation.
“Russia will probably agree to sacrifice the presidency of Assad, but only in exchange for maintaining a degree of influence in Syria,” wrote Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, in the magazine Foreign Policy on June 9th.
However, one of Russia’s most knowledgeable experts in the Middle East disagrees.
“Who will benefit from a discussion [on the region]? It is not an important issue, but a secondary one, “Alexey Malashenko, based in Moscow, told Al Jazeera.
Putin’s foreign minister echoes his boss’s low expectations of the summit and uses a metaphor to describe the possibility of re-establishing bilateral ties.
“It takes two per tango. But if someone is doing a breakdance, things will be more complicated, ”Sergey Lavrov said at a youth conference on June 9th.
Lavrov mentioned one of the cornerstones of the global nuclear weapons control architecture that Moscow and Washington maintained for decades and that could offer a renewal of cooperation.
The Kremlin has long been concerned about NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Romania and Poland, the Soviet-era satellites of Russia.
The United States says the system is designed to prevent a nuclear threat from Iran, but Moscow believes the system can be improved to fire long-range Tomahawk missiles at Russia.
Moscow is keen to conduct regular inspections of Aegis Ashore’s facilities and will allow NATO to inspect its short-range Iskander missiles in the Baltic region of Kaliningrad in western Russia.
“We invite you to visit the Kaliningrad region and see the Iskanders, and in return we want our experts to visit the missile defense bases that are being set up in Romania and Poland,” Lavrov said.
But experts say the demand is nothing more than a game of the king of the hill to increase Moscow’s prestige.
“This is a direct path to what Russia has been fighting unsuccessfully since the 1990s: European security guarantor status, just like the US,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst at the Jamestown Foundation. think tank in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera.
He said Biden is unlikely to allow inspections, but may promise not to install the Tomahawks, which is technically impossible to begin with.
“There may be an exchange of statements to present at least something positive during the summit,” Luzin said.