Shortly before President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down in Switzerland for their first face-to-face meeting, Russian warships began conducting the largest military exercises since the Cold War off the coast of Hawaii.
“The exercises, conducted by the Russian navy in the Pacific Ocean 300 to 500 miles west of Hawaii, include long-range bombers, surface ships and anti-submarine aircraft,” the New York Post reported. The exercises prompted the U.S. Air Force to scramble F-22 stealth fighters.
U.S. officials said the Russian planes did not enter the Air Defense Identification Zone and were not intercepted.
A few days before the U.S.-Russia bilateral, Biden was asked about Putin, whom he had earlier called a “killer.”
“In a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you had called him a ‘killer.’ Is that still your belief, sir, that he is a killer?” CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny asked.
Biden laughed, then said, “To answer the first question — I’m laughing too. They actually — I —”
Zeleny broke in: “So he is a killer?”
Biden said: “Well, look, I mean, he has made clear that — the answer is: I believe he has, in the past, essentially acknowledged that he was — there were certain things that he would do or did do. But look, when I was asked that question on air, I answered it honestly. But it’s not much of a — I don’t think it matters a whole lot, in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have.”
Things got off to a rocky start at the bilat, held at the Villa La Grange, an 18th-century mansion located in a park in Geneva.
“There was chaos at the start of this bilateral meeting,” said Fox News’ John Roberts, a longtime White House reporter. “We’re supposed to have what’s called a pool spray where press from both the United States and Russia come in what’s supposed to be an orderly fashion and listen to the two leaders as they begin their bilateral meeting.”
“But there was a lot of pushing and shoving that was going on, only half of the American pool got in. Our camera got in, but the audio didn’t, which is why you really couldn’t hear the two of them talk. And then when the American press started, as tradition holds, shouting questions at the two leaders, Russian security got involved and started pushing everybody out of the room, even grabbing on to the clothing of some of the Americans as they tried to clear them out,” Roberts said.
“It’s a grand tradition for the [White House press] wranglers, as they’re called, to say, ‘Thank you press, get out, it’s time to get out,’ but the United States Secret Service never puts a hand on the American press, unless of course they were to present some sort of a threat. But for the Russian security forces to grab the American press and try to shove them out of the room, that’s going beyond the line. But I will say, these things are always crazy,” said Roberts.
Another reporter covering the scrum said much the same thing.
“We are not being allowed in because everyone is pushing and shoving,” Anita Kumar, a reporter for Politico, wrote in a pool report. “Authorities have threatened to keep us out.”
In a later pool report, Kumar wrote: “There’s an extremely chaotic scene at the door. Both pools being denied access. At 1:39 pm, part of the pool was ushered in but we were pushed and shoved by security officials and Russian media. Poolers tripped over cords.”