President Joe Biden is set to meet his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin next month in Geneva, Switzerland. While the two leaders have spoken previously by phone, the Geneva meeting would be their first face-to-face encounter since Biden took office in January.
The White House confirmed the planned June 16 meeting, stating, “The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship.”
The planned meeting comes amid continued strained relations between the U.S. and Russia. In a set of back and forth comments about the one another in March, Biden characterized Putin as “a killer” and Putin responded by challenging Biden to a live-streamed debate and telling Russian media, “I wish him good health. I am saying this without irony or tongue in cheek.” Fox News reported the White House turned down the debate challenge, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying Biden was “quite busy” at the time.
In April, words turned to sanctions, with the Biden administration announced sanctions and the expulsions of Russian diplomats after it had assessed Russia had interfered in the 2020 election and the widespread SolarWinds hack, which affected U.S. government agencies. Those new sanctions are set to take affect on June 14, just two days before Biden and Putin’s planned meeting.
Russia retaliated to the new round of U.S. sanctions by expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia.
Tensions between Russia and the U.S. also rose amid a weeks-long Russian military build-up along the Ukrainian border. While Russia eventually declared the troop buildup was just part of a routine readiness drill, and said Russian troops have since returned to their home bases, a May report indicated some 80,000 Russian troops remained only a short distance from the Ukrainian border.
Despite adding other new sanctions, the BBC reported last week that the Biden administration did waive a separate set of sanctions, allowing a Russian gas pipeline project with Germany, known as Nord Stream 2, to progress. BBC reported the U.S. State Department concluded it is in the U.S. national interest to waive the sanctions. Biden previously said he opposes the Russian pipeline project that is estimated to have an $11 billion value, and in his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “determined to do whatever we can to prevent that completion” of Nord Stream 2.