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Biden's High-Stakes Summit With Putin. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 15:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWEL, ANCHOR: Brand new hour, I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, ANCHOR: And I'm Alisyn Camerota. Strategic stability, that was the goal heading into today's high-stakes summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And as the sun sets in Geneva, it appears that they have at least laid a path forward.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I did what I came to do. The tone of the entire meetings, I guess it was total four hours, was good, positive. There wasn't any straightened action taken. Where we disagreed, I disagree, stayed at where it was. Where he disagreed, he stated, but it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translation): The meeting was actually very efficient. It was substantive. It was specific. And it was aimed at achieving results.


BLACKWEL: So let's talk about some of the results. Russia and the US have agreed to return their respective ambassadors for their posts in the coming days. Also, the two nations will begin consultations on cybersecurity. And we know President Biden said there would be grave consequences if Putin critic Alexei Navalny died in prison, and mentioned the two American prisoners being held by name.

With us now Ambassador John Tefft, he is the former US ambassador to Russia. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us. First, we know that the President says it'll take three to six months to determine if this was a success. What can we glean from what we've seen already today that this was a successful meeting?

JOHN TEFFT, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I think many of us thought, Victor, and thank you for having me on. Many of us thought that the strategy here going in was to try to lay it out on the table what the United States, what the Biden administration's approach was going to be.

Today, we saw the last stage of what's been a carefully cultivated and crafted diplomatic strategy over the last week going to the G7 Summit, NATO, EU and now finishing with Putin. And I think President Biden laid it out pretty clearly in his interview, very simply what his diplomatic strategy was going to be put out the bottom lines that he had, and challenge Putin where things where we disagree, and then we'll just have to see over the next few months whether things will work.

Obviously, the cyber group is an important one. We'll also have to see whether or not the new arms control negotiations can come together. And we can launch another initiative, which I think we'll take some time, to negotiate a follow on to the new star agreement models.

And we'll have to see if there's any other things that come out of this meeting. I'm certainly, personally, very hopeful that the Russians will release these to American prisoners who have been justifiably held in Russia. And there may be other things that we can talk about in areas like Afghanistan, the Arctic, climate change and the risks, so we'll just have to see.

CAMEROTA: I'd like to hear more about your hopefulness about the two Americans who are jailed in Russia.


Because from what President Biden said, he didn't give a lot of specifics. I mean, I wasn't left with the feeling that it was going to be imminent. Let me play for you and everyone what he said when asked about our two Americans,


BIDEN: We'll find out, within the next six months to a year, whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters. We'll find out whether we work to deal with everything from release of people in Russian prisons or not.

The families of the detained Americans came up and we discussed them. We're going to follow through with that discussion. I am not going to walk away on that.


BLACKWEL: In case you couldn't hear that, because that was at the end. He was already done with his press conference and someone yelled a question. And he said to the family, the detained Americans, we discussed it. We'll follow through with that discussion. I'm not going to walk away on that. So what gives you hope, ambassador?

TEFFT: Well, this has been an issue that's been out there for quite a while, Alisyn. When I was ambassador in Moscow from 2014 to 2017, the Russians were already pushing for the release or trade of the some of their prisoners in American prisons. Now, there's people like Viktor Bout the noted infamous arms dealer, a

fellow named Konstantin Yaroshenko who used to fly cocaine around, and both were caught, extradited and convicted and on serving in jails in the United States. Those sentences, those crimes are nothing, or the crimes that are alleged for the Americans are nothing compared to what these men have done.

Now, I'm not privy to what exactly the Biden administration is prepared to do, or even whether the two Russians in jail here, the ones that the Russian that Putin mentioned today. But they have been on the agenda and the Russians have been pushing them for some time. They obviously have high level connections in Moscow.

I just hope that the Americans who were there will be also released as soon as possible. The President also mentioned the case of Michael Calvey, who's a businessman, who was arrested on really ridiculous charges, was held in prison for a while and now is under house arrest.

And I think the President made it very clear that this is one of the greatest deterrence for American business to go invest in Russia. Russia is really hurting themselves by keeping somebody who's a respected banker, an investment banker, Michael Calvey, in prison. So I'd like to see all of these cases resolved as quickly as we can.

BLACKWEL: On the question of cybersecurity, we know that there's been discussion of moving forward with experts, consulting experts on some rules of the road. There was a partnership that was suggested by Vladimir Putin to President Trump back in 2018 on cybersecurity, that was dismissed out of hand because experts said that he wasn't a fair actor. Is there a degree of confidence that the US should have now three years later that he is a fair actor moving forward with this consultation?

TEFFT: I think it's not clear yet. Victor, what will come out of this. They're obviously talking, going to talk about having cyber experts together. And as Alisyn mentioned, there's a -- the President apparently gave a 16 point paper, laying out the places which there should not be interference in the cyber arena.

Whether the Russians are ready to do that or not, I don't know. I watched a little bit of Putin's press conference and from what I can tell, he just denied straight out that they were doing any kind of cyber activity in the United States. If that's the attitude, we're not going to get very far.

But I think the administration did the right thing of putting down on the table a number of specific proposals, and we'll just have to see what the Russians come back and do.

CAMEROTA: And, Mr. Ambassador, I want to -- because you're versed in Putin speak, I want to play for you and our viewers what President Putin said about President Biden. He characterized him after the meeting. So here is that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PUTIN (through-translation): He is very balanced, a professional man. It's obviously clear that he's very experienced. And it seems to me that we did speak the same language. Certainly doesn't imply that we must look into each other's eyes and find a solo or swear return assumption. But essentially, our talks were pragmatic.


CAMEROTA: Also, there's another sentence there where he said, it was clear the level of his moral character, speaking of Biden, was very attractive. And so, what, I mean, he didn't have to compliment him, what was that about?

TEFFT: I think that was an attempt to convey not just to the international audience, but I think also to the domestic audience.


Because remember, the Putin press conference was geared as much as possible toward his domestic audience who probably watched it live on television. And so, I took that as actually a fairly good sign that Putin was able to characterize President Biden like that.

Now, that being said, I think we shouldn't jump to any kind of conclusion that that's necessarily going to be lead to the kinds of changes in behavior, or even changes in policy that we would obviously like to see. I think that President Biden caught it right, when they -- one of the questioners asked him about personal relationship. And he said, listen, this is business. This is all about business. But the fact is, they've got to have some chemistry to be able to do business. And at least from what I saw today, that seemed to be getting off to a pretty good start.

BLACKWEL: All right, former US ambassador to Russia, John Tefft. Thanks so much for your time and insight, sir.

TEFFT: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Our special coverage of the Biden-Putin meeting continues. Plus, we will look at the deal making happening back here on the domestic front. We have some new details about a bipartisan group of senators pitching another version of the infrastructure plan.


CAMEROTA: For President Biden, today's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin were part of a larger goal. After several years of disharmony, he wants to bring the Western alliance together again.

BLACKWEL: So listen to these comments that he made shortly before leaving Geneva.


BIDEN: I really do think -- not me, but I think we, the country, has put a different face on where we've been and where we're going. And I feel good about it. I feel, you know, one of things that I think, understandably, there was a good deal of skepticism about: would the G7 sign on and give America back it's, sort of, leadership role. I think it did. It wasn't me, but it meant they're glad America is back. They're glad America is back, and they acted that way.

And then, when we went to NATO, I think it was the same thing. We had really good meetings there and real response, as well as the EU. I didn't get one single person -- not one of the world leaders said to us anything other than thanking me for arranging a meeting with Putin. And I thought, quite frankly, I was in a much better position to represent the West, after the previous three meetings with Putin, that -- knowing that the rest of the West was behind us.


BLACKWEL: CNN's Fred Pleitgen is with us now. Fred, the President bookended every stop of this trip with three words America is back. Do we know how the European leaders he met with a few days ago of responding to this summit?

FRED PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I think they're absolutely happy about the way that this summit I think went down. But the fact that summit took place in the end, I think one of the things that we can really see if we look back to 2018, for instance, is how much division, the Trump administration and President Trump himself when he was in office cause especially in the European Union and among European allies.

Often when he was singling out Germany for certain things, trying to impose things on Germany, saying that Germany shouldn't export cars, for instance, in the United States, trying to get, for instance, Eastern European countries on side with the United States against some other Western European countries.

None of that appears to be there anymore. And it's really something I think many people are surprised about. And if you look at the run up to the summit that happens today, I think one of the things that President Biden said is absolutely correct. Of course, there were some leaders who had misgivings before the summit took place, about the summit taking place, especially in Eastern Europe, especially after President Biden decided not to sanction, for instance, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But in the end, it certainly does seem as though right now, the European leaders are all very much on board with the fact that the summit took place.

And certainly from the sort of early reactions that I could see, are also quite happy with the outcomes as well, especially some of the things that President Biden said there, in his press conference afterwards, namely, that the US would obviously stand up for weaker countries, for instance, also stand up for Ukraine. That's also something that, of course, is extremely important to many other Eastern European countries, but just also stand up for Western values.

And I think that's something that's extremely important, because one of the things that we always have to keep in mind about these European countries. I traveled to a lot of them much of the time is they want the United States to be strong, vis-a-vis Russia, but they certainly also want relations with Russia. They also do want the relations with Russia to improve. However, they don't want the US to give up those Western values. So sort of I think they'll be very, very happy with the outcome today.

CAMEROTA: Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much for all of the reporting and analysis. And we want to bring in now CNN's Senior Global Affairs Analyst, Bianna Golodryga, and Jill Doherty, CNN's former Moscow Bureau Chief. Great to see both of you.

Bianna, I want to start with you. Because one of the things that was really interesting to see on stage, and with Putin press conference was his famous what about-ism on display, and particularly about Alexei Navalny.


CAMEROTA: So he likened it to basically the George Floyd protests here in the US, as well as the attack on the US Capitol. He was saying, those people were protesting, and now you're jailing them. There are all sorts of court cases happening as though that's the same thing. I mean, it's really obviously intellectually completely dishonest, but it's classic.


GOLODRYGA: And it's a preview that he gave in the weeks leading up to the summit as well. This is what he hinted at look at what happened on January 6th. He even said today, we're sympathetic with the American public that we want to avoid having what happened in America happened in the US.

And it's again another way for Putin to broadcast back to his domestic audience, back at home. And he's suggesting again, before Russia had the veneer of having an opposition party, of having checks and balances Alexei Navalny was not poisoned and killed just a few years ago, right? He was allowed to have protests, he was allowed to exist.

Now, things seem to have changed. That veneer has been lifted, and Putin today made clear that if there is an opposition party in Russia, it is being driven by the United States in a sense. He didn't utter Alexei Navalny's name but he did associate him with sort of being an agent of the US government, which he has done before. And what just floored me is this analysis that he gave of what transpired and the rationale for why Alexei Navalny is behind bars.

He suggested that the reason is because he violated his probation rules, and he traveled abroad for treatment. Well, we know he didn't just travel abroad for treatment, he was poisoned by the FSB. And his wife, Yulia, just to give more picture and color to this, posted a photo just recently on Instagram of him being airlifted out of Russia to Germany. So this is once again him suggesting that if there's anybody who is voicing opposition in Russia inside of Russia, it must be led from the US. It's sort of a sense of paranoia, that the US and other Western countries want to oust him.

BLACKWEL: Jill, we've actually got sound. This is President Putin during that news conference, talking about but not saying the name Alexei Navalny. Let's watch.


PUTIN (through translation): This man knew that he was breaking the law of Russia. He is somebody who has been twice convicted. And he consciously ignored the requirements of the law. He showed his videos on the internet, but he ignored the demands of the laws. And knowing about that, he came back to Russia. And so, I think that he wanted consciously to break the law. He did exactly what he wanted to do. So what kind of discussion are we having?


BLACKWEL: So it's obvious that even the asking about Alexei Navalny gets under his skin, he won't even say his name. That's one part of the conversation. But also, I think it falls in line with the theme that President Biden wanted to take along this trip, democracy versus autocracy. And the juxtaposition of what we're hearing from Putin and what the President Biden was trying to espouse during this trip.

JILL DOHERTY, WALSH SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Yes. And you know, Victor, if you look at this, the way it was depicted by some, well, President Putin didn't admit to doing this, to hacking into elections. President Putin didn't admit that Alexei Navalny is being held as a prisoner illegally or whatever, excuse me. Putin was never going to do that. There is no way that he was ever going to admit to anything like that.

But this was not a debate. These two leaders were together to really kind of set out what they viewed. And then no guarantee, as Joe Biden said, about what the other side will do. But I think it's very important to say that it was made very clear by Joe Biden, especially when you get into that cyber part of it, what the capabilities of the United States are and what could happen if is violated.

Again, there was no expectation that this was going to be clear or admitted. But what now happens is that as Vladimir Putin goes home, do they really take this to heart, do they begin to think about the consequences, we don't know. But at least the point is made.

CAMEROTA: One thing that both leaders said they wanted out of this, beforehand, was strategic stability. And so here is President Biden talking about that.


BIDEN: Strategic stability. You asked me many times, what was I going to discuss with Putin before I came. I told you I only negotiate with the individual. Now I can tell you what I was intending to do all along. And that is to discuss and raise the issue of strategic stability and try to set up a mechanism where why we dealt with it. We discussed in detail. The next steps are countries to take on arms control measures, the steps we need to take to reduce the risk of unintended conflict.


And I'm pleased you agreed today to launch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue, diplomatic speak for saying, get our military experts, our diplomats together to work in a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raised the prospects of accidental war.


CAMEROTA: Bianna, it sounds like that was a real area of progress.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it was. But it was something that we knew going into this, was something that Vladimir Putin was willing to discuss and to agree on as well, which is why they renegotiated and extended the new start two treating. Look, nuclear arms control is one thing, it's tangible. We know how many nuclear weapons each country has. You are the two biggest nuclear powers in the world.

In terms of cyber and other areas that Jill was talking about, that's a bit trickier because there is this plausible deniability that Putin can lay out in terms of these attacks, right? They're not all linked directly to the Russian government to the Kremlin, to the FSB, to the GRU. They are these third party players that we know Putin says, I can't control them. I don't know what you're talking about. Perhaps there are these patriotic people in this country who are attacking.

So when Biden today, for example, says how would you like it, if in fact, your pipelines, your oil pipelines were cyber attacked. And he said, Putin said, oh, I understand that would be a big deal. It's one thing to have this negotiation in discussion among these two leaders. It's very different to implement any sort of rules of engagement, which is why Biden's said clearly, we know that it's not realistic to say, make sure this doesn't ever happen again. But here are the parameters where there is a red line, and you can't cross these.

BLACKWEL: And we'll see where that red line goes. Jill, I know that you've been watching, this is obviously a lot of it is for domestic consumption. You've been watching Russian media, how are Russian outlets reporting on covering this summit?

DOHERTY: You know, as I watched it, I kept thinking, this is really great for Vladimir Putin because, you know, they have pictures of his limousine going through the streets of Geneva, his plane lands, you know, just like Air Force One, people snapping to salutes et cetera. It's very impressive for anyone to see this. And I was putting myself in the place of Russians at home looking at this. There has to be a lot of pride about President Putin.

And then you look at his news conference, he's done this a million times. So he is able to, you know, back away questions that he doesn't want to answer. He can say whatever he wants. He's used to this. And so, I think he was able to score the points that he wanted. Navalny is a criminal who deliberately broke the law. He also said, by the way, that the United States is the one that created all the bad relations between Russia and the United States, et cetera. He can score those points, and many of them do register with Russians. But the point was, when he was in that meeting with President Biden, that's where the rubber hits the road. That's where they have to be very objective. And scoring these points doesn't really make a lot of difference, because neither person I believe, really accepts any of that.

So, you know, score one for domestic is good for Putin, but the real substance of what I think was one of the most fascinating summits that I've seen, because it deals with the future. The cyber aspect is really important, and very new and undefined, that that's where you had some fascinating discussions I'm sure.

GOLODRYGA: I can I just button up what Jill was saying about score one for Putin at home domestically, because who you didn't see in that Kremlin press pool was the only independent news network inside of Russia remaining today. TV Rain. They were banned from traveling with the press pool. Why, because they covered the Navalny rallies earlier this year.

CAMEROTA: Good to know. That's very (inaudible).

BLACKWEL: All right. Bianna Golodryga and Joe Doherty, thank you both.

Up next, new details from inside bipartisan infrastructure meeting happened today. One Republican leader said that there are "a lot of details that need to be filled in." We're live on Capitol Hill.