When President George W. Bush first met Vladimir Putin, he seemed smitten, describing the still-new Russian leader as “very straightforward and trustworthy,” even claiming he got “a sense of his soul.”
A certain Democratic senator from Delaware had a very different reaction.
“I don’t trust Putin,” Joe Biden said in the days after the June 2001 Bush-Putin summit in Slovenia. “Hopefully, the president was being stylistic rather than substantive.”
Twenty years later, Washington has come around firmly to Biden’s assessment. Now president, Biden is set to meet Putin for their first bilateral summit since taking office, amid a swirl of recriminations over Russia’s election meddling and alleged cyberattacks in the United States, along with its sway and aggression in countries like Belarus and Ukraine.
It won’t be the pair’s first time face-to-face. They saw each other 10 years ago when Biden was vice president; he claims to have then told Putin he didn’t think the Russian had a soul. The upcoming June 16 summit in Geneva is unlikely to be a particularly friendly affair, but U.S. officials and their allies outside the administration say there’s no avoiding dealing with the Kremlin — no matter how distasteful it is to sit down with a man Biden once agreed was a “killer.” [Continue reading…]