Commentators in Switzerland and abroad agree that while it was important for Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden to meet, there was little in the outcome of the Geneva summit to hint at a significant change in bilateral relations.This content was published on June 17, 2021 - 11:27
“Measured against the low expectations, the meeting was not a disappointment,” said an editorial in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ).
At the very least, “the leaders of the world’s two main nuclear powers began talking to each other again” and established what red lines on either side should not be crossed, the Italian-language Corriere del Ticino remarked.
But, according to the NZZ, although “it was right for the two men to meet in Geneva […] the US must not delude itself that it has brought the disruptive Putin under control.”
As had been predicted, the two presidents announced no major breakthroughs or agreements following their three-hour exchange. Still, many observers welcomed the news that the Russian and American ambassadors would be re-installed in their respective posts in Washington and Moscow and that consultations on cybersecurity would begin.
“‘Stable and predictable’ relations with the US and the West are not necessarily in the interest of Russia, which is politically, economically and also militarily weaker than the US,” the Tages-Anzeiger pointed out. The relationship between the two countries “remains marked by friction”, it added. “The summit in Geneva did not change much in this respect.”
‘A stubborn optimism’
Major US papers made similar assessments, suggesting that little was bound to change.
“The rhetoric sounded a lot like that which followed the initial encounters between the past three US presidents and Mr Putin, who has invariably reneged on his promises and relentlessly escalated his assaults on the US political system and alliances,” wrote The Washington Post.
The New York Times called the Russian leader’s post-summit press conference “vintage Putin”, where the latter expressed old grievances against the US.
But Biden at his own press conference had seemed unfazed by Putin’s reaction, underscoring “a persistent feature of his presidency: a stubborn optimism that critics say borders on worrisome naivety and that allies insist is an essential ingredient to making progress,” the paper continued.
This optimism “will also raise questions about whether [Biden is] willing to confront looming challenges”, such as the sabre-rattling on the Ukrainian border and cyberattacks on US infrastructure.
In Russia, the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti pointed to a significant weakness in Biden’s approach: raising the country’s human rights record with the Kremlin strongman.
“Discussing the imprisonment and treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny was a completely senseless tactic … as an instrument of pressure on Russia, this topic is useless, even counterproductive, if you want to achieve any kind of mutual understanding,” the agency said.
Still, even if the summit had not produced important breakthroughs, the mere fact that the two leaders had even met amid great discord between their countries was “remarkable”, according to the daily Nezavisimaya Gaseta.
Success for International Geneva
If there was a clear winner in the optics game, it may well have been Putin, suggested the Tribune de Genève. “Vladimir Putin was looking for respectability: he found it in the ‘old-fashioned’ format of this bilateral meeting in Geneva, the venue of the great Cold War summits where Russia is treated as an equal with the United States.”
Another winner, at least in the eyes of the Swiss, was International Geneva. Guy Parmelin, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, won plaudits on Swiss public radio, RTS, for his role as host to the two presidents at the Villa La Grange.
"On an international level, the Swiss Federal Council [executive body] can claim a victory,” wrote the Aargauer Zeitung. “Switzerland can reclaim its reputation as a diplomatic trailblazer and present its 'good offices' in the glare of the international press.”
Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis expressed his satisfaction: “For Switzerland itself, the summit was worthwhile several times over.”