The Biden administration is taking great pains to ensure the president keeps his distance from Vladimir Putin at next month’s G-20 summit in Indonesia to avoid a potential showdown over Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, according to a new report Wednesday.
Although Biden signaled last week that he would be willing to meet with Putin to discuss WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, the White House has not been in contact with the Kremlin to arrange a sit-down and that likely won’t change, Politico reported.
Administration officials have ruled out a formal meeting between the leaders and are working to ensure that Biden and Putin do not bump into each other in a hallway or during a group photo during the Bali gathering, the report said.
“We know what President Biden thinks about President Putin: he thinks he’s a killer, he thinks he’s a war criminal,” Former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told Politico. “You don’t usually meet with killers and war criminals.”
Talks reportedly have been underway at the White House since Indonesia confirmed that both Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the summit, and administration officials appear to be on the same page in opposing a Biden/Putin meeting.
But some foreign policy experts have suggested Biden should take advantage of his proximity to the Russian leader.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, is among those saying the president shouldn’t duck a potential encounter.
“He should lead with pushing for Griner’s release but also take advantage of the moment to look Putin in the eye, and you tell him that ‘You are losing and you are on a collision course with destiny and it’s not going to come out well for you,’” Stavridis told Politico.
Since becoming president, Biden has met Putin once, at a June 2021 summit in Geneva and the two have talked on the phone several times — but not since the invasion of Ukraine in February.
Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, noted that Putin began amassing troops along the Ukraine border shortly after Geneva and cautioned that meeting Biden could give Putin a boost.
“It’s a hard call. During times of crisis, channels of communication are important,” McFaul told Politico. “But the problem of meeting is legitimizing him. You give Putin a platform to claim whatever he wants.”
Then there’s the fist-bump between Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in July after the president publicly said the kingdom should be considered a “pariah” state.
Despite the encounter, Saudi Arabia rejected pleas from the White House not to cut oil production last month, sending gas prices higher in the US weeks before the midterm elections.
A White House official said any meeting between Biden and bin Salman, who will also attend the G-20 summit, is “highly unlikely.”
While efforts are being taken to keep Biden and Putin at arm’s length, talks are underway between Washington and Beijing to arrange the first in-person summit between the president and China’s Xi even as tensions flare over Taiwan.
Stavridis encouraged Biden to huddle with Xi in an attempt to isolate Putin on the world stage.
“Deliver the message to Xi: ‘You are judged by the people with whom you keep company,’” Stavridis said. “Xi might be the one man who can push Putin to stop.”
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