US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are holding their first ever meeting since Biden took office.
The meeting between the two world most powerful leaders is overshadowed with wide disagreements and expectations low for any breakthroughs.
The pair exchanged a brief handshake in front of reporters on Wednesday in Geneva, before entering a stately lakeside villa for talks.
Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with interpreters, will meet together before being joined by aides for a larger session.
Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, while Biden said it was “always better to meet face to face”.
The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning as both leaders appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.
While Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”
Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters, including if he feared jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Their talks is expected to last four to five hours.
Relations have deteriorated for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and US allegations – denied by Moscow – of its meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to power.
Their relationship sank further in March 2021 when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations.
The US has also recalled its ambassador in April. Neither has since returned.
A senior US official said the United States aimed for a set of “taskings” – Washington jargon for assigning aides to work on specific issues – “about areas where working together can advance our national interests and make the world safer”.
Arms control is one domain where progress has historically been possible despite a rift.
Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat, told Reuters that Putin wanted respectful ties and to be treated like members of the Soviet Politburo were in the 1960s-1980s, with “a symbolic recognition of Russia’s geopolitical parity with the US”.
“In exchange, they (Moscow) would be willing to cut back on some of the loony stuff,” Frolov said, saying he meant “no poisonings, no physical violence, no arrests/kidnappings of US and Russian nationals. No interference in domestic politics.”
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank, set the bar for Wednesday’s talks low.
“The principal takeaway, in the positive sense, from the Geneva meeting would be making sure that the United States and Russia did not come to blows physically, so that a military collision is averted,”
As a sign of the strained ties, the talks will not include any shared meals and Putin and Biden are expected to hold separate news conferences rather than a joint one.
The Geneva meeting has been widely viewed to be very tense and probably unfriendly meeting
In contrast to Trump, whose 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, Biden and Putin are not expected to have any solo dealings.
Standing beside Putin in Helsinki, Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.