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For Putin, Biden summit is all about respect

The summit will be the first time the two men meet since Joe Biden became US president

When Vladimir Putin meets Joe Biden for their first summit on Wednesday the Russian leader will not be looking for progress on arms control, the lifting of sanctions or even an apology for the US president saying he is a “killer”. 

Putin already got what he wanted: the summit itself.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington are at their highest in years over a long list of disputes — from cyberattacks and election meddling to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and designation of his organisations as “extremist” groups.

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But for Putin, experts say, Biden’s invitation to hold the summit was enough, a sign of the respect for Russia that he has always craved in more than two decades in power.

“Just the meeting itself is already a win.”

Officials and state media in Moscow hailed the invitation as a victory for Putin, framing the talks as the latest in a series of historic summits dating back to the Cold War.

“The summit shows Russia is a player in the big leagues,” said Alexander Shumilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

No one expects the meeting to be friendly, especially after Biden in his first months in office announced new sanctions on Moscow and told a journalist he agreed with a description of Putin as a “killer”.

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The tensions have seen ambassadors from both countries return home and other diplomats expelled in recent months, with Russia in May formally designating the United States as an “unfriendly state”.

Putin told NBC News ahead of the summit that the relationship with the United States was at “its lowest point in recent years” but that he hoped “career man” Biden — who he previously met when Biden was vice-president — would be less impulsive than predecessor Donald Trump.

“Relations between Russia and the United States have become irrational,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the influential journal Russia in Global Affairs.

– Putting Russia ‘on a shelf’ –

On rights issues like the fate of Navalny, or on Russia’s backing for separatists in Ukraine, no one is holding their breath.

“A breakthrough in Ukraine? Don’t wait for that. The conflict is chronic and it is futile to talk about it.”

In the end, Galeotti said, Putin will be able to fly back to Moscow basking in the glory of a summit, while Biden can move on to other things.

“He’s going to want to more or less say to Russia: ‘Back off, as long as you don’t do anything that really forces me to act, then I’m not going to pay too much attention to you.'”

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