Putin seeks to temper expectations ahead of summit with Biden

By Gabriela Cañas

Saint Petersburg/Madrid, Jun 4 (EFE).- Russia’s Vladimir Putin said Friday that is not counting on any breakthroughs to emerge from his scheduled June 16 meeting in Geneva with US President Joe Biden.

“I don’t expect great advances,” he said during his annual round-table with the world’s leading news agencies, including Spain’s Agencia Efe, conducted this year via teleconference from the venue of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Putin added, however, that he was confident of holding constructive talks with Biden about the shared interests of Russia and the United States in areas such as the environment, arms control and resolving regional crises.

“This is very important because it has to with the security of our countries,” the Russian president said, pointing to the role of Middle East crisis in the growth of terrorism, which is “very dangerous for everyone.”

Regarding the question of strategic security, he said that Russia’s new weapons are not intended “to scare anyone.”

“Yes, we are developing these armaments and we have achieved certain results,” Putin said, asserting that Russia is a step ahead of other countries even while acknowledging that the US and others will soon catch up.

“So, it seems to me, it is better to agree in advance on how we are going to live together in a changing world,” he said.

Shortly after Biden took office in January, Washington and Moscow agreed to extend until 2026 the about-to-expire New START treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement between the two nations that together account for 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Another topic that the two presidents are sure to address in Geneva is the effort to subdue the Covid-19 pandemic.

Putin dismissed the notion that Russia is supplying its Sputnik V vaccine to 66 countries as part of a gambit to boost its influence at the expense of the US and the European Union.

Accusations that Sputnik V is a geopolitical weapon are “foolishness,” Putin said, attributing the charges to commercial rivalry and to an unwillingness to recognize that in addition to its natural resources, Russia is strong in education and technology.

He appealed to EU regulators to approve the Russian shot for use inside the 27-member bloc, citing studies showing that Sputnik V is 97 percent effective against the coronavirus.

Russia, he said, has every right to offer the vaccine, noting that some European nations, including EU members Hungary and Slovakia, have accepted Sputnik V even though it has not received authorization from the European Medicines Agency.

The Russian leader said that given the persistence of the pandemic in his own country and other parts of Europe, Moscow would continue to restrict cross-border movement.

“We have enough (doses) to vaccinate the whole population. And we are going reach 60 percent of people in Russia vaccinated by September,” he said. “And then we will talk about wider access to our territory. And then our citizens will be able to travel more widely to other countries.”

Only about 10 percent of Russia’s 146 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated.

Putin defended his continuing support for Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko in the wake of the May 23 incident in which Belarus authorities forced a commercial flight carrying dissident Roman Protasevich to land in Minsk and arrested the activist.

The Ryanair plane entered Belarusian airspace en route from Athens to Vilnius.

“He (Lukashenko) explained to me that that plane did not land (under compulsion) and that there was a warning about a bomb aboard. And the pilot could have landed the plane in Vilnius,” Putin said.

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