President Joe Biden’s first face to face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin started with a hand shake between the two men.
After a week of warm words between Mr Biden and European leaders, the mood was expected to be frostier as Mr Biden meets Mr Putin in Geneva on the final leg of his trip to Europe.
Mr Biden will promise to stand up to Russian cyber-aggression and raise the threat of ransomware after Russian operatives were repeatedly accused of meddling in US affairs.
He said he would tell Mr Putin that “if he chooses not to co-operate and acts in a way that he has in the past … then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”
Ransomware attacks “will be a significant topic of conversation” at the summit, a senior official in Mr Biden’s administration said.
The two leaders got down to business after a photo opportunity that descended into a chaotic scrum between the press pool and security forces.
Flanked by Mr Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Mr Biden said it was “always better to meet face to face”. Each side has a translator.
Swiss President Guy Parmelin is acting as host for the talks, which were expected to last four to five hours without a break for food.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was not expecting any breakthrough in relations with the US.
In April, Russia was hit with a series of sanctions in the aftermath of the SolarWinds attack on US government agencies.
Mr Biden’s team added to sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, a move not recognised by most of the international community.
Tensions were heightened further earlier this year by Russia’s imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Amid fears over Mr Navalny’s health, Mr Biden said on Monday that his death in prison would show Russia’s disregard for human rights.
“The talks today will not be easy; it will be a very difficult conversation,” Mr Peskov said.
“We shouldn’t expect any breakthrough, the situation is too difficult in Russian-American relations. However, the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement.”
Wednesday’s summit is taking place in the Cold War trappings of Geneva, where Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a 1985 summit.
The US and Russia still possess most of the world’s nuclear stockpile between them, and both have put more of their warheads into deployment.
A White House official said the two leaders would discuss the future of nuclear arms reduction after their current pact, New Start, expires in 2026. The National News