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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Leon Neal (WPA Pool)/Getty Images

President Biden assembled a group of outside Russia experts — including former Trump officials — to brief him for his summit with President Vladimir Putin, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The previously unreported session demonstrates the extent to which Biden wants to be well prepared, drawing on the experience of officials with first-hand knowledge of the onetime KGB colonel’s tactics and tricks.

  • The group urged Biden not to hold a joint press conference with Putin or afford him any opportunity to try to upstage the private talks with new public proposals.
  • After his first formal summit with Putin, in Helsinki in 2018, President Trump questioned his own intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election: "I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."
  • Among the group of Biden briefers was Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official who once said she considered feigning a medical emergency to cut short that news conference with Putin.

In Brussels on Monday, Biden previewed his approach for the meeting, scheduled for Wednesday in Geneva.

  • He said Putin is "bright, he's tough and I have found that he is a, as they say when we used to play ball, a worthy adversary."
  • The president helped prepare by sitting down with his briefers — at least some of them virtually — before departing for the G7 summit.

Go deeper: During the briefing, the assembled experts broadly agreed on the approach Biden should adopt: blunt talk leaving no doubt for Putin on where Biden stands, from hacking to human rights.

  • There were roughly a dozen participants, including two of President Obama’s former Russian ambassadors: Michael McFaul and John Tefft.
  • Other participants included Hill, who not only was present for Trump's Helsinki meeting but later testified during his impeachment trial.
  • Rose Gottemoeller, an arms control expert now at Stanford University who served as deputy secretary general of NATO under Obama, and Eric Green, a career foreign service officer who is the NSC’s senior director for Russia, also participated.

Between the lines: Even though the group represented a range of views about how to handle Putin, there weren’t outright disagreements on the approach.

  • Some participants favored looking for more opportunities to engage with Russia, from student exchanges to restoring diplomatic and consular positions.
  • Others argued for an approach conveying a get-tough message at every opportunity.

What they are saying: "Tough rhetoric is great," said Tim Morrison, who replaced Hill on Trump's NSC but wasn't invited to the briefing.

  • "But tough rhetoric without action or consequence is actually kind of dangerous because Beijing and Tehran are also watching,” said Morrison, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
  • “The object of the meeting is to lower the temperature,” said Samuel Charap, a former Obama State Department official now at the Rand Corporation. “You don’t want to force them to say things that will make headlines or put distance between them.”

Go deeper

Swing voters' split feelings about Afghanistan

An Afghanistan flag waves in front of the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 28. Photo: Liz Lynch/Getty Images

Some swing voters say they're deeply disappointed with the execution of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Yes, but: They don't believe former President Trump would have handled it better than President Biden, and the issue is far less important to them than getting the pandemic under control.

Biden blindsides Europe with new AUKUS alliance on China

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Biden is constructing and deepening new alliances to strengthen the U.S. position in its showdown with China, but he risks alienating longstanding allies in the process.

Why it matters: Biden heralded a new agreement to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines as part of a trilateral security pact with the U.K. and the U.S. as an "historic step" to update U.S. alliances to face new challenges. The message from French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was quite different.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
2 hours ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.