Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Putin Speaks after Summit Talks with Biden. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 11:30   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And it's going to be very interesting to hear what they say, because as I just ran through that laundry list of issues, you're trying to imagine how it would be possible that they could have had substantive conversations about all of those issues, frankly, even half of those issues in the truncated timeslot that we saw.

One even has to wonder if perhaps things didn't go as well as possible, if there was some kind of disagreement, or -- I mean, who knows? It's not a point to speculate on but certainly doesn't feel like enough time to really get to the number of issues (ph).

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): What strikes me as notable is not having the breakout sessions with lower level officials, right, because it could be material because those would be the sessions where you hammer out the details of whatever big picture things were agreed to.

For instance, if you're talking about humanitarian assistance to Syria, here is how we're going to do it and when. If you're talking about setting some rules of the road for cyberattacks, here is how we're going to do it. So, not having those breakout sessions, that could be notable here.

Again, it's possible they had faster progress than anyone expected on some of these bigger picture issues in there, but let's be frank, this is a shorter window than White House officials themselves were describing as a likely scenario, four to five hours. And at the same time saying, hey, and who knows, it may go even longer. Stay on for the ride. So, this may be --

WOLF BLIZTER, CNN ANCHOR: It sounds like that motorcade is going right by where we are right now. We saw the president of the United States leaving that area and heading over to presumably consult and get ready for his news conference.

Gloria Borger is our Chief Political Analyst, she is joining us from Washington right now.

Gloria, let me get your thoughts on what we are witnessing right now, what we are experiencing covering this summit.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Wolf, the run-up to the summit has been a huge expectations game, as we all know. And the expectation setting was really done by the White House. There was disagreement inside about whether Joe Biden should actually have this meeting with Vladimir Putin. He decided he wanted to have it. And I think the question they're probably asking themselves right now whether this was, in fact, a risk worth taking.

It seems to me and from listening to you guys and just watching Joe Biden's body language as he got in the car, is that this was shorter and that, as a result -- and, again, we can only speculate and it serves no purpose, we'll learn eventually, that they didn't get to cover Clarissa's laundry list of topics. And the White House went in expecting hours and hours and hours of sessions.

Now, I've watched Joe Biden for a very long time. I do know that, for example, when he met with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, he famously walked out of a dinner and threw his napkin on the table. He has met with Putin and told him, you have no soul. So the question I have is what did they talk about at first that seemed to be truncating this meeting?

And I think we can all agree, given what the White House was saying, and maybe Putin's people never thought the meeting was going to be as long as Biden's people did because they came in with a very robust agenda, but what is it that occurred that cut the meeting short? Did they not have more to talk about? Did they decide that perhaps their staffs needed to meet and talk at some later date? I mean, we just don't know.

But for a White House that has put an awful lot into this, I would think that the length of the meeting is probably pretty disappointing at this point.

BLITZER: Jim, a reporter shouted a question to President Biden as he was leaving, how did it go, and he said, I'm quoting now, I'll talk about it in a bit. He didn't want to say. He could have said good, could have said bad. He said I'll talk about it in a bit.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's why these press conferences are going to be very key to watch, and they would be under in any circumstances. But if it was disappointing, right, let's look at the words of Putin and Biden for how they describe it.

Now, they could surprise us on the upside and have something to announce here. But, again, as we were saying, it is shorter than advertised and then the already very mild expectations that were set by the Biden administration, White House officials going into this.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is joining us right now, our Chief International Anchor. Christiane, let me get your thoughts on this historic day. What do you think?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Wolf, we have covered these incredible summits for the last many, many decades. I think, first, we have to acknowledge that President Biden's job is to defend democracy against rising Autocracies around the world, that he did something very different than President Trump.

Instead of going to an adversary like Saudi Arabia as his first foreign trip, he went here to Cornwall and the G7, to allies, then to NATO in Brussels, then on to the E.U. summit, gathered all his backers, all his team, so to speak, behind him before going to talk to President Putin.


There is no way that anybody expected that either Putin or Biden were going to resolve their massive differences, whether it's over two hours, two and a half hours, five hours or what. And so we really do have to see what are the crumbs or what are the significant middling results that may have been achieved or none at all. It is possible. You remember the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik was declared a complete disaster. It ended up not being such a disaster in the fullness of time.

But these are -- they're difficult meetings, they're high-stakes gambles. Each side has potentially intractable objectives. On the other hand, there are areas where they do have common interest, whether it's climate, whether it's potentially humanitarian assistance in Syria and whether it's some of the other things, who knows, maybe the Iran nuclear deal, but they can potentially in arms control have some meeting of the minds on.

But everybody realized that this was a gamble by Biden. But what's the objective or rather what's the alternative? Do you not engage with one of the most important leaders, or one of the most important, in this case, adversaries, particularly at a time when NATO, in its most recent communique just this week, declared Russia the biggest threat? It's never done that before and it's never used that particular language. So it was going to be so interesting to hear what they both say from their -- both their separate perspectives in their press conferences.

BLITZER: Christiane, we're showing our viewers some live pictures coming anywhere President Putin will holding his news conference in that tent over there. Matthew Chance is on the scene. I hope he gets to ask a question.

Putin will make a statement, then answer reporters' questions. You and I have covered Putin over the years. He could have a news conference that can be relatively short, but he can go on and on and on. Sometimes he spends an hour or two hours at these respective news conferences, right?

AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, clearly, for Putin, the news conference, his presser will be about his domestic audience. Putin has made a career out of confronting America. Don't forget, many people around the world believe America is the one at fault.

I mean, we can argue that until the cows come home, but Putin has successfully positioned himself and Russia as the only -- pretty much the only global leader willing to hold the United States superpower to account and actively, materially try to destabilize the United States, whether it's militarily, whether it's annexing territory, whether it's cyber and that warfare and the hacking of major American installations and elections, whatever it is.

It is considered by some Putin's aim to have at least a perception of a conflict with America that he's in control of and he comes out the chest-beating patron of those who would challenge the United States. He will be talking to his own domestic audience.

But it is significant that the United States, one -- or at least asked and got the agreement from Putin that he would come first to the meeting, would not hold up the whole affair, would not keep Biden, the president waiting, that there would be separate news conferences because the Americans did not want the repeat of the disaster and the debacle of Putin running circles around Trump in Helsinki, which we were all at. So, some of these issues are important that have already taken place.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Christiane, don't go too far away. We're going to get back to you shortly.

But, Kaitlan Collins, our Chief White House Correspondent, where the U.S. delegation is here in Geneva, I assume President Biden is over there following the summit. The summit has now wrapped up. What else are you learning, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we saw President Biden leave. He gave a thumbs up to the press. Of course, the question is what does that say about this summit. He is expected to tell us shortly but not until the Russian leader has actually briefed his press corps and gone over his talking points of how this meeting went.

What we do know right now is that we had seen the presidential limo idling outside the Villa for a few moments before Biden actually came out and got into it, clearly an indication that the talks were wrapping up before officials officially let reporters know that, yes, the summit had come to an end.

And right now, we can see secretary of state, Tony Blinken's motorcade is right outside where we are standing in front of this camera right now. We saw the secretary of state get out of his vehicle. We have not seen the president from over here in this perspective. But, Wolf, we are told he's expected to hold nearby while President Putin gives his press conference.

And so right over here is where the presidential motorcade is. It's just not far from us, as they are waiting to see what Putin says about his view essentially of how the summit went.


Now, it is a lot shorter than what the White House expected. The question is whether or not we should be reading into that and whether it means these talks went well or whether they went poorly. Because, of course, the White House had been down playing expectations beforehand, they were not setting any kind of a high bar, essentially the opposite of it, Wolf. Essentially, you had these officials telling reporters, don't expect a lot to come out of this.

So, the question of whether or not they actually achieved anything and got any substance here or made progress on those areas where they do feel they have mutual interest remains to be seen. Because this was President Biden's idea to hold the summit, he is the one who initiated this and invited President Putin before those weeks of deliberations between the two sides happen. And so there were a lot of issues on the table where they do not agree.

And White House officials said nothing was off the table, expect President Biden to confront Putin over election interference, Belarus, this ransomware hacking, imprisoning political prisoners, detaining Americans, but also they wanted to talk about areas where they feel they can cooperate. This wasn't just a session for Biden to come over here and lash out at -- or for Biden to come over and lash out at Putin over all of the things that they believe he's done wrong. They wanted to actually try to find some common ground.

We're seeing some Secret Service, Wolf, around here. We are not actually seeing the president though yet. So we're waiting on him, but we do not expect to see him until after Putin has given that press conference.

BLITZER: We are just told, Kaitlan, and I'll share with you and I'll share with our viewers around the world, a White House official has told the press pool or the White House press pool that the first session between the two presidents went 93 minutes. They then took a 45-minute break and the second session lasted for 65 minutes, at 5:05 P.M. local time. Right now, what, it's 5:41 P.M. local time. At 5:05, it broke up. The summit has ended. The two leaders have gone their respective ways. We're waiting for the two news conferences to start.

Matthew Chance is over with the Russians right now where the Putin news conference will take place. Set the scene over there, Matthew, for us. I understand you're in a tent over there and you're getting ready presumably to start asking questions once Putin shows up.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Yes, that's right. I'm in a tent. We can't get our video signal up right now so I'm speaking to you on the telephone. I can tell you there's quite a lot of anticipation building here in this tent where it's been set up to stage the President Putin solo press conference following this summit.

And, already, the room is, of course, filled with journalists, mainly journalists from Russia, but some international journalists as well. This is the Kremlin pool that this press conference is originally intended for, but the Kremlin opened it up to allow me and a few other international colleagues in as well.

And I can also tell you that a number of the key delegates, parts of the Russian delegation, members of the Russian delegation have already come in to the press conference and are sitting on the side of the room waiting for President Putin to enter.

Amongst them is the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. He's sitting just about 10, 15 meters away from me. Obviously, he was a key figure in this summit. He accompanied President Putin in that first sort of narrow format, leg of the summit along with President Biden. He is accompanied Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state.

But there are couple of other interesting people. I mean, the names may not be familiar to our viewers, but the commander -- chief of the general staff of the Russian Armed Forces sitting right in front of me, Valery Gerasimov, a (INAUDIBLE) of Putin as well. So, clearly, he was part of the broader negotiations or broader talks that were had inside this summit.

And also a figure, a much lesser known figure called Dmitry Kozak. He's in front of me as well. And that's interesting to those of us who are watching closely, because he has been the lead figure when it comes to negotiations on the Donbas, the situation in Eastern Ukraine. And so, clearly, that subject requiring his particular expertise was something that was broached, we assume, by his presence during this summit.

Also you can see in front of me Anatoly Antonov, and he is the Russian ambassador to the United States. But, of course, for several months now, he has been in Russia, not at his post in Washington, because neither country has an ambassador at their posts in their respective capitals at the moment. And so that's perhaps something that may come out positive from this meeting.

It was the thing that was perhaps the easiest win when it came to discussing what deliverables, I think, we're calling them now, what could come out of this meeting but we'll see when Vladimir Putin comes into this auditorium under the tent. It's absolutely sweltering hot in here, I can tell you, even though there are air conditioners pumping out, struggling with the high temperatures outside here on Lake Geneva.


But I'm hoping -- we're hoping, we're expecting now that the summit is over that Vladimir Putin will appear shortly and start to tell us how that summit, that first historic summit with President Biden actually went.

BLITZER (voice over): Yes. We expect this news conference with President Putin to begin shortly. All of his top aides, including Sergeiy Lavrov, the former minister, he's all the way on the left part of your screen, he was in that meeting as well. All of these top aides, they are already sitting, they're waiting for President Putin to show up. He's going to be presumably walking out soon. He'll have the news conference, we understand, first and then President Biden will have a separate news conference, a solo news conference at his hotel here in Geneva.

Christiane Amanpour is watching all of this together with us. Christiane give us your thoughts as -- and we may interrupt momentarily once Putin actually shows up. Give us your thoughts on what's going on.

AMANPOUR: Well, very, very quickly, and let's hope Putin turns up and you do interrupt very quickly, because it's really -- everyone is on tenterhooks.

But, look, the idea that any other person other than President Biden could get a sense of President Putin to even explain or put down America's red lines, et cetera, is a joke, because only President Putin calls the shots in Moscow, not Sergey Lavrov, not any of the others you saw lined up there.

So it really had to be in this case a meeting at the very, very top, which does not mean to say that either the United States or Russia will give away the shot. But that is the clarity that is absolutely required with somebody like President Putin whose, as I say, foreign minister or national security adviser or whatever, is not the person to discuss changing policy and this and that with their American counterparts.

In addition, to add to what Matthew was saying about General Gerasimov, this is perhaps one of the most significant personalities in the Russian sphere under Putin right now. He is the one who is the inventor, the father of, the head of Russia's alternative warfare against the United States and against what it perceives as adversaries. He is the inventor of the Little Green Man, the inventor of all the propaganda, the whole challenging the United States in asymmetrical and disproportionate way. His doctrine --

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, Christiane. Christiane, hold on. The Russian president is walking out -- the Russian president, we're told, is walking out. There he is right there. He's, I guess, heading over to the tent where this news conference is going to be taking place. You can see him surrounded by his security. He's walking over. He'll be making, we're told, an opening statement and answering the reporters' questions. And we anticipate this will be very, very soon.

It's not very far from where he was into this tent that was built in order to accommodate the Russian news media and the foreign press as, well including our own Matthew Chance, who is inside that room. Matthew pointing out it's very, very hot in there, air conditioner apparently not working all that well.

Let's listen in as the Russian president walks in and the reporters will start asking some questions. We see security walking in, and there he is getting ready. Let's watch.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We also talked about cooperation in the Arctic, and so on and so forth. Your questions, please.

REPORTER (through translator): Good evening. Perhaps you could tell us which topics you discussed in greater detail, particularly the Ukrainian issue? Did you talk about the Donbas? Did you talk about the annexation of Ukraine to NATO? And what about the expected return of the two ambassadors to their posts? What decisions were made and what kind of discussion did you have?

PUTIN: Well, as far as the reinstatement of the ambassadors are concerned -- the two ambassadors, we agreed, should return to their posts and take up their functions. It's a technical question as to exactly when that will happen, tomorrow, day after tomorrow, or whatever.


And the consultations will begin on a whole raft of diplomatic issues. As has already been said, a great deal has accumulated over time and we believe that the American side is determined to look at solutions.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, we certainly did touch upon it, I can't say in a very detailed way, but President Biden agrees that at the basis of any kind of solution to the problems in Ukraine lie the Minsk agreements.

As far as the possibility of the annexation of Ukraine to NATO, I don't think there is anything to discuss there.

So, essentially, that was, in a nutshell, what we discussed.

REPORTER(through translator): (Inaudible) but you said that one of the topics was strategic stability. Could you tell us more in detail which decisions you came to -- will Russia and the U.S. resume negotiations on the whole question of strategic security and disarmament, and particularly with regard to START 3? Are you going to have discussions as to the further prolongation or extension of the talks? Thank you.

PUTIN (through translator): The U.S. and the Russian Federation have a particular responsibility for strategic stability in the world, in as much as we are the two biggest nuclear powers in terms of the quantity of warheads and nuclear weapons and also in terms of the quality of modern nuclear weaponry.

We realize that, and I think it's absolutely obvious to everybody that President Biden assumed responsibility to prolong the START 3 negotiations for five years.

And, of course, the whole question of what will happen after that, we agreed that consultations will begin at interagency level between the State Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And delegates on the mission are going to talk about further details of that in due course.

CHANCE: Hi, Matthew Chance from CNN. Thank you very much for giving me this question.

First of all, could you characterize the dynamic between yourself and President Biden? Was it hostile or was it friendly?

And, secondly, throughout the conversations, did you commit to ceasing carrying out cyberattacks on the United States? Did you commit to stopping threatening Ukraine security? And did you commit to stop cracking down on the opposition in Russia?

PUTIN (through translator): The first overall evaluation, as far as that is concerned, I don't think there was any hostility.

On the contrary, our meeting was obviously a fundamental one. Many of our joint positions are divergent but, nevertheless, I think both sides manifested a determination to try and understand each other and try and converge our positions. And I think it was very constructive.

As far as cybersecurity is concerned, we agreed that we would begin consultations on that issue. And I believe that's extraordinarily important.

And, obviously, both sides have to assume certain obligations there. I would like to inform you that I think it's common knowledge, perhaps not to the public at large, but the American administration, I don't want to actually say which body it is, but American sources say that the majority of cyberattacks the world are, in fact, on the cyberspace in the U.S. And then the second place is Canada, and the third is U.K.

On that list of countries, the cyberspace which is most vulnerable is not ours.


The second point is that for some years now we have received already from the states ten requests about cyberattacks on American sites, and according to that saying this is coming from Russia, and we've had two this year.

Last year and this year, our colleagues got an exhaustive response. In its turn, Russia sent last year to the relevant bodies of the U.S. 45 such demands, and the year before that, 35. And we have not had a single reply to that.

So, that obviously means we have got some work on our plate. So, in terms of volume and frequency, we have to address that in a consultatory process.

We believe that the cyberspace is extraordinarily important, in general, and in particular for the U.S. and to the same extent for Russia. For example, we know about cyberattacks on the pipeline company in the U.S., and we know that the company had to pay out $5 million to the blackmailers. Part of that money was returned, as far as my information tells me, but the other part not.

So, we encounter this every year. For example, one of the health systems in a very important part of Russia was attacked. So it means that this work is being coordinated in the U.S. I don't think that the U.S. administration is particularly interested in organizing that or looking into it. All they do is to make insinuations. What we need is expert consultations between us. We agreed to that in principle and Russia is prepared for that.

CHANCE: That's correct, and thank you very much for coming back to me, sir. So there were two other parts of the question. The first one is, did you commit in these meetings to stop threatening Ukraine? Remember, the reason this summit was called in the first or the timing of it was when Russia was building up lots of forces (inaudible).

And the second part of the question -- the third part of the question was, did you commit to stopping your crackdown against the opposition groups inside Russia led by Alexei Navalny?

PUTIN (through translator): Right. Well, I didn't hear that part of the question, and maybe it was not translated or you decided to ask supplementary questions.

But as far as Ukraine was concerned, obligation is only one, and that is to favor the implementation of the Minsk agreements. If the Ukrainian side is prepared for that, we will go down that path, without any doubt.

I'd just like to draw your attention, however, to the following. Ever since last year, the Ukrainian delegation submitted its considerations as to how it interprets the Minsk agreements. Look at it. It's not a secret document. It considered -- first of all, proposes ought to be submitted as to the political integration of the Donbas into the constitution that -- constitution changes should have been made. That's the first thing.

Secondly, the border between the Federation of Russia and the Ukraine along the Donbas line was related on the day after the elections. What does Ukraine propose? It proposes as a first step to return to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The positions that they occupied, first of all, and what does that mean? It means returning Donbas to Ukraine.


Secondly, they proposed that the frontier, the border between Russia and Ukraine should be closed.