President Biden has a chance to back up his tough-guy talk in a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that some are comparing to a Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev moment.
Biden, who has called Putin a soulless “killer,” will face off with Russia’s notorious leader on Wednesday on the shores of Lake Geneva with the world watching to see how the U.S. president performs in his first major foreign policy test.
The meeting will also test the strength and endurance of the 78-year-old Biden, coming at the end of a long road trip to Europe.
What we do know is the summit will be a far cry from the meeting President Trump had with Putin in which the two seemed to enjoy each other’s company and Trump was slammed for being too cozy with his Russian adversary. Biden is being intensely coached to avoid looking weak.
Reagan, who once famously told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” met with the Soviet leader for the first time in frigid Geneva in 1985.
The summit meeting, covered by more than 1,000 journalists, was credited with easing Cold War tensions between the two nuclear superpowers.
The handshake between the two leaders lasted a full seven seconds. The meeting also helped Reagan, who had just won a second term, cement his political reputation as one of the nation’s most popular presidents.
No one is expecting a Biden-Putin handshake to last that long, unless the two try to arm wrestle. And it’s highly unlikely Biden’s handlers will let him do that.
The contrast between the two world leaders could not be greater. Putin likes to pet tigers, Biden trips on his dog.
Biden can sometimes look frail, while Putin likes to take his shirt off and exude manliness and robustness.
But Biden also likes to talk tough, wear aviator shades and say “pal” and “buddy,” so that should count for something.
Biden has made clear that he doesn’t want to do a side-by-side press conference after their meeting because he’s afraid Putin will try to make him look bad.
In a pre-summit interview with NBC — his first U.S. interview in three years — Putin seemed put off by U.S. complaints that he was cracking down on dissidents, saying, “Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly.”
Putin also strongly denied that Russia had anything to do with cyberattacks on the U.S., challenging the Biden administration to provide proof. But Biden is expected to hit back on Putin on the cyberattacks, attempting to hold the Russian leader accountable.
It’s important that Biden comes through the summit without looking weak. Aides have been prepping the president for weeks to prepare for the meeting.
“He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is — as they say when I used to play ball — a ‘worthy adversary,’ ” Biden said of Putin on Monday.
And that’s another thing. No long anecdotes about when you used to “play ball.”
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