US President Joe Biden’s summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin began with a few minutes of unusually fierce shoving and shouting among journalists from both sides and the Russian security forces.
The two world leaders are meeting inside an 18th-century Swiss villa, situated alongside a lake in the middle of Geneva’s Parc de la Grange.
Organisers at Wednesday’s (June 16) summit in Geneva opened the meeting room to journalists for what’s normally a few minutes of news media filming and shouting questions before talks start. On Wednesday, however, Russian and US security forces and officials initially blocked journalists as they tried to enter the site for the press spray. The scene then devolved into minutes of chaos inside the meeting room.
Two US journalists, who could finally enter the meeting room, said later that Russian security pulled on their clothes in an attempt to stop them from entering the room.
The BBC reported that “the initial conversation in front of TV cameras was cordial, though slightly chaotic.” Journalists “drowned” the two world leaders, said the report.
The situation got tense when shoving ensued as pools of reporters from the US and Russia sought to enter the 18th-century villa where the two leaders were meeting.
American journalists described Russian security and news media grabbing them by the arms and clothes to try to hold them back. US journalists tried to shoulder their way in, and a US reporter was knocked to the ground. Before the scene calmed, some in the crowd shouted they were being crushed in the melee. Biden and Putin initially sat awkwardly in front of the press, but then watched and at times laughed at the tumult.
The Washington Post reported that security officials from both sides stopped the journalists and told them to line up separately. It looked more like a school morning assembly where the scribes were told they won’t be allowed in unless everyone was orderly.
White House communications director Kate Beddingfield responded: “It was a chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other. @POTUS was very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally. He said just two days ago in his presser: ‘verify, then trust.”
The Russian state news agency RIA projected the incident as American journalists attempting to “stampede” the meeting.
All this while, both presidents appeared amused as they watched and listened to the media scuffle in front of them.
What transpired at the meeting?
Biden called it a discussion between two great powers and said it was always better to meet face to face. Putin, for his part, said he hoped the talks would be productive. The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters. Biden appeared to suggest that he can take the Russian leader at his word, nodding his head when asked by a reporter if Putin can be trusted.
The two leaders did shake hands. Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.
Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyber attacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections. Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations pointing to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.
(With inputs from agencies)