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President Biden departs Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Pool/AFP via Getty

President Biden's summit "reset" was less about trying to make a friend out of Russia than reframing what the U.S. believes can be accomplished by engaging with President Vladimir Putin.

Driving the news: The Geneva meeting yielded no immediate breakthroughs beyond agreements about ambassadors returning to work and plans to launch talks on nuclear security. But in classic Biden fashion — aviators on, jacket off and a one-liner about invading Russia he had to clarify was a joke — the U.S. president used a post-summit news conference to explain his approach.

Details: "My agenda is not against Russia" but for the U.S., Biden said Wednesday. There were "no threats," no hyperbole, just "simple assertions." The relationship is "not about trust" but self-interest and verification.

  • "I did what I came to do," Biden said, using words like "practical," "mutual interest" and "benefit the world," while saying he wanted Putin to hear directly from him what the U.S. considers unacceptable.
  • He said he addressed election interference, cyberattacks, Ukraine, trade and the fate of imprisoned Americans.

There were warnings, too. If jailed opposition leader Alexi Navalny dies, Biden said, the consequences would be "devastating for Russia."

  • The president also said he'd warned Putin that 16 specific elements of critical U.S. infrastructure were off-limits to cyber hacks and said he'd asked the Russian leader to consider, "How would you feel if ransomware took down the pipelines from your oil fields?"
  • Biden said Putin "still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down," but "the last thing he wants now is a cold war."

Between the lines: The president’s approach with Putin followed his approach to Congress: try to take the most optimistic path, give it some time and be prepared to march ahead with consequences.

  • He’ll call Republican and any outlier Democrats’ bluff on infrastructure and other legislation, and try to muscle ahead with his preferred bill if not.

It sounds the same with Putin. He said he wanted to work together and would set up some meeting structure to promote cooperation, then assess the results in several months.

  • There also was a very pregnant line in which he made clear: “We have significant cyber capabilities, he knows it.”
  • Biden is playing a slightly longer game, which is why he had chafed at some of the more momentary analyses of his meeting’s results.
  • In essence, the president is setting himself up for a great second act at home and abroad.

What to watch: Biden predicted it could be six months to a year before it's clear how much progress in the Russia relationship is possible.

  • Asked why the meeting was shorter than expected, Biden said he and Putin had covered so much ground in the first session that, "After two hours there, we looked at each other like, 'OK, what's next?'"

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: Russia seeks trilateral talks with U.S. and Israel on Syria

Secretaries Blinken (left) and Lavrov. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry\TASS via Getty

Russia has asked Israel to encourage the U.S. to agree to hold high-level trilateral talks on Syria, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israel's main focus in Syria is getting Iran out, and that would likely only be possible through U.S.-Russian cooperation. 

Biden steps into the breach

Sen. Joe Manchin heads to a meeting with President Biden today. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden ramped up the pressure on his fellow Democrats Wednesday, calling a series of lawmakers to the White House in the hope of ending infighting and getting them in line.

Why it matters: Divisions within the party are threatening to derail Biden's top priorities. After several weeks of letting negotiations play out, the president is finally asserting his power to ensure his own party doesn't block his agenda.

3 mins ago - World

Kremlin says U.S. written response ignored Russia's main NATO demand

Sergey Lavrov. Photo: Dimitar DilkoffI/AFP via Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that the United States' written answers to Russia's security demands do not contain a "positive response" to the Kremlin's top priority, which is a freeze on NATO expansion, according to Russian state media.

Why it matters: A spokesperson for the Kremlin stressed that no conclusions will be drawn until Russian President Vladimir Putin has time to analyze the papers, but a lack of movement on Russia's core concerns means the crisis over Ukraine is unlikely to de-escalate.