Some success in cybersecurity, arms control


US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to begin cybersecurity and arms control talks at a summit that highlighted their discord on those issues, human rights and Ukraine.

In their first meeting since he took office in January, Biden asked Putin how he would feel if a ransomware attack hit Russia's oil network, a pointed question making reference to the May shutdown of a pipeline that caused disruptions and panic-buying along the US east coast.

While Biden stressed that he did not make threats during the three-hour meeting, he said he outlined US interests, including cybersecurity, and made clear to Putin that the United States would respond if Russia infringed on those concerns.

Both men used careful pleasantries to describe their talks. They agreed to send their ambassadors back to each other's capitals. Russia recalled its envoy after Biden said in March that he thought Putin was a "killer." The United States recalled its ambassador soon after.

Putin said he had been satisfied by Biden's explanation of the remark.

But there was no hiding their differences on issues such as human rights, where Biden said the consequences for Russia would be "devastating" if jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny died, or cyberspace, where Washington has demanded Moscow crack down on ransomware attacks in Russian soil.

"I looked at him and said: 'How would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?' He said: 'It would matter,'" Biden told reporters at an unusual solo news conference, itself an illustration of the tensions between the two nations.

In Putin's news conference, he dismissed US concerns about Navalny, Russia's increased military presence near Ukraine's eastern border and US suggestions that Russians were responsible for the cyberattacks on US soil. He suggested Washington was in no position to lecture Moscow on rights, batting away question about his crackdown on political rivals by saying he was trying to avoid the "disorder" of a popular movement, such as Black Lives Matter.

Neither side gave details on how their planned cybersecurity talks might unfold.

Both Biden, 78, and Putin, 68, said they shared a responsibility for nuclear stability and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New Start arms limitation treaty.

The treaty caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

The Kremlin welcomed the commitment to arms control.

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the rejection of the possibility of a nuclear war by the two sides was a "real success."

The administration of Biden's predecessor Donald Trump had withdrawn from a number of international accords, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

More: Biden refines his Putin put-down approach

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July 2021

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