New world news from Time: Biden’s Summit Gave Putin the World Stage He Craves 

All the trappings of a major international summit were on full display as President Joe Biden and Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin met Wednesday in an 18th century manor house overlooking the mountains of Switzerland and waters of Lake Geneva. A row of large Russian and U.S. flags flapped along Geneva’s main bridge, the Pont du Mont-Blanc. The city’s iconic 400-foot spray of water in Lake Geneva was lit up the night before in red and blue for the colors of the two countries’ flags. Thousands of Swiss spectators—few cheering or protesting, most with neutral expressions and snapping photographs—lined the streets to watch the two leaders’ motorcades travel through the city.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

The stagecraft played to Putin’s long-standing desire for Russia to be taken seriously as a major rival to the U.S. Even the setting seemed designed to place the two leaders on equal footing and emphasize the global power they each hold. When Biden and Putin sat down to meet in a library filled with leather-bound books inside the Villa La Grange, an antique globe had been placed between the two leaders.

At the start of their meeting, Putin was quick to point out that the summit was Biden’s idea. “Mr. President, I’d like to thank you for your initiative to meet today,” Putin said, leaning back in his chair in his signature unfazed slouch. “The U.S. and Russian relations have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest-level meeting,” Putin said, adding that he hoped the meeting would be “productive.”

When Biden spoke, holding a notecard in his hands, he described the U.S. and Russia as “two great powers,” and said, “I think it’s always better to meet face-to-face.”

The White House said it hadn’t come into the meeting with concessions or specific, pre-planned initiatives to unveil. For Putin, in large part, the meeting itself was a concession—and a boost. Putin is the only world leader on Biden’s European tour who got his own day. Biden spent hours working with European leaders to bolster alliances and bring a more unified message to a summit that comes after years of Putin’s active interference in the U.S. election to hurt Biden, allegations of poisoning and jailing rivals, standing by as criminal hackers launched crippling ransomware attacks on U.S. businesses and continuing to use Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine.

In the meetings, which went for just over three hours in the Swiss villa, but didn’t involve a meal together, the U.S. wanted to find places to work together, lay down clear consequences for Russian cyber attacks and malicious interventions in U.S. politics.

Putin seemed to relish the platform. After meeting with Biden, the Russian autocrat gave a press conference, his legs spread wide at a lectern with the coat of arms of the Russian Federation as he answered questions. He said the two leaders agreed to work together on cyber security and nuclear weapons agreements, though he deflected any blame about cyberattacks coming from Russia.

When asked about his role in interfering in U.S. elections, Putin leveled allegations that the U.S. government interferes in Russian domestic politics. He said Biden spent time talking about his family and his mother and telling stories. “This didn’t have something to do with our business,” Putin said, speaking through a translator. “but it shows his qualities and his moral values.”

Asked what kind of person Biden is, Putin described the American president as “a constructive person, well-balanced, and experienced, a seasoned politician, and I expected that.” Putin described the discussions as “frank and candid”, “fruitful,” and “productive” and said the two leaders “dovetail” together. Putin said there was no pressure placed “on either side.” “I believe we spoke the same language,” Putin said. “It doesn’t mean we need to look into the eyes and see his soul.”