Biden’s national security adviser defends WAIT-AND-SEE approach to Putin as Russian ambassador returns to Washington amid signs that frosty relations are thawing
- Republicans condemned Geneva summit for giving Putin a PR win without pushing him on key issues
- But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Russian president would be held to account for statements he made in meeting
- ‘That is where we will turn our focus at this point,’ he said
- Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov departed for Washington on Sunday
- The U.S. and Russia withdrew their envoys in April amid deteriorating relations
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser on Sunday pushed back at criticism of his meeting with President Vladimir Putin, insisting that Biden made important progress in engaging with his Russian counterpart.
Republicans condemned their Geneva summit for elevating Putin and suggesting Russia was a ‘great power’ like the U.S.
But in a sign of a thawing diplomatic freeze, it emerged that the Russian ambassador to Washington was on his way back to take up his post after being recalled to Moscow in April.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president gained an insight into Putin’s views during their summit.
‘I would say that President Biden did hear from President Putin, some important statements about how he looks at both the U.S.-Russia relationship and particular issues in it on strategic stability, on cyber and in other areas,’ he told ABC ‘This Week’ anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Republicans have criticized the White House strategy, saying President Biden gave President Putin a PR win with their summit in Geneva. But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the focus now moves to determining whether the Russian president lives up to his words during the summit
Sullivan said: ‘But President Biden has been pretty clear from the outset that he wants to be able to have a space, to be able to engage directly, privately, candidly with President Putin, and then to determine whether the actions that Russia takes in the months ahead, match up with the discussions that took place in Geneva.’
‘But President Biden has been pretty clear from the outset that he wants to be able to have a space, to be able to engage directly, privately, candidly with President Putin, and then to determine whether the actions that Russia takes in the months ahead, match up with the discussions that took place in Geneva.
‘That is where we will turn our focus at this point.’
Biden arrived at the meeting with a long list of complaints for Putin.
Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsular, meddling in U.S. elections, harboring cybercriminals, poisoning of opposition politicians and general efforts to destabilize competitors, were all expected to be discussed.
But the difficult diplomatic balancing act was exposed when Biden lost his cool with a reporter who asked how he could be confident that Putin would change his behavior their summit.
Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov boarded an Aeroflot flight to New York on Sunday as he returns to Washington. He was withdrawn in April after Biden said in a TV interview that he believed Putin was a killer.
‘I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,’ he snapped back.
‘What the hell, what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?’
He later apologized but it exposed White House frustrations that critics are missing the key point of his strategy: Verify then trust, in a reversal of the famous Ronald Reagan formulation of ‘trust but verify.’
Republicans saw a win for Putin.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Biden had given ‘Putin a pass.’
‘President Biden should have used yesterday’s summit to show that the United States will hold Russia accountable for its long list of transgressions, he said.
And Alexander Vindman, the director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council from 2018 to 2020, wrote in the New York Times that Russia claimed a ‘public relations win’ while the U.S. came away with ‘little to show in terms of tangible improvements to national security.’
Some of the first tangible results emerged on Sunday.
Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov boarded an Aeroflot flight to New York, according to the Associated Press, and was expected to fly on to Washington to resume his role.
He was withdrawn after Biden said in a TV interview that he thought Putin was a killer.
U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan left at the same time.
Both sides agreed the ambassadors should return during the summit but no date has yet been set for Sullivan to go back to Moscow.