story today is the meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian
President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
The event was carefully choreographed and left neither of them
humiliated the way former president Trump was on July 16, 2018 in
Helsinki, Finland, where he took Putin's word over that of U.S.
intelligence about Russian interference in the 2016 election (Trump's
Russia advisor Fiona Hill said recently she was so appalled during the
joint press conference with Trump and Putin she thought about faking a
medical emergency to interrupt it).
Biden refused a joint press conference, unwilling to give Putin a
platform next to the U.S. president. (Critics note that even shaking
Putin's hand was a public relations victory for the Russian president
before his country's September elections.)
Biden's goal was not to try to push Putin into that ubiquitous "reset"
we've heard about since the administration of President George W. Bush;
it was about establishing some rules of the road to promote stability
going forward. "This is not about trust. This is about self-interest,"
He warned Putin that the U.S. will no longer permit cyberattacks on
critical infrastructure from either the Russian government or the
hackers it shelters, and that it will respond to any further attacks on
"I made it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to violate our
democratic sovereignty or destabilize our democratic elections, and we
would respond," Biden said. He also made it clear that the U.S. will
defend human rights. The two men began to talk about the issues involved
as climate change opens sea lanes through the previously frozen Arctic
Neither side expected any agreements to come from the meeting, but it
was more productive than the initial low bar predicted.
The two sides agreed to return their ambassadors to each other's country
and agreed to resume talks on nuclear weapons. "There has been no
hostility," Putin told reporters. "On the contrary, our meeting took
place in a constructive spirit."
"We don't have to look each other in the eye and soul and make pledges
of eternal love and friendship," Putin said. "We defend the interests of
our countries and peoples, and our relations always have [a] primarily
"I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else,
it's for the American people," Biden said. "I made it clear to President
Putin that we'll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights
because that's who we are."
Skeptics note that this meeting took place while Putin holds his chief
political opponent, Alexei Navalny, in prison on trumped-up charges and
just after his government outlawed Navalny's three political
Since hackers based in Russia just recently shut down a major U.S. oil
pipeline, Putin's people might interpret Biden's willingness to meet
with him as acceptance of that behavior. But Biden thought a face to
face meeting would be productive. "We'll find out within the next six
months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue
that matters," Biden said. "I did what I came to do."
What Biden accomplished in the past ten days was crucial.
He reestablished friendly footing and cooperation between the U.S. and
our allies at the G7 meeting and shored up the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, bringing the U.S. back into a leadership role there. He
worked with the European Union on trade, extending the suspension of
some of Trump's tariffs and resolving a 17-year-old dispute over
The U.S. and its allies pledged to supply vaccines to countries that
don't have them, combat climate change, create good jobs, empower women
and girls, stand together against Russian aggression, and cooperate in
the face of Chinese growth. Each public statement they released used
Biden's motto: "Build Back Better."
What President Biden really did was to rally our allies behind a defense
Yesterday, the U.S. and the E.U. issued a statement saying that they are
"an anchor for democracy, peace, and security around the world," and
declared their commitment to protecting democratic governments. "We
reject authoritarianism in all its forms around the globe, resisting
autocrats' efforts to create an environment that protects their rule and
serves their interests, while undermining liberal democracies."
Here at home, there was news, today too.
The House passed legislation making a federal holiday of June 19th,
known as Juneteenth, the day in 1865 that enslaved Americans in
Galveston, Texas, heard an army officer confirm that they were free.
Forty-eight states currently celebrate the day in some form.
Fourteen Republicans voted against the measure; one suggested he feared
it would introduce Critical Race Theory into schools. The Senate passed
the bill unanimously on Tuesday. It will now go to President Biden for
©Heather Cox Richardson
Letter from an American