The media scuffle ahead of the much anticipated Biden-Putin meeting in Switzerland was the most chaotic one at a presidential event in nine years.
Ahead of the Biden-Putin meeting, a shoving match in the press pool broke out as the presidents entered separately. Neither president spoke to the press.
Journalists from both countries tried to rush the entrance of the venue but were stopped by US and Russian government officials.
The venue hosting the US and Rissian presidents, Villa La Grange, is an 18th-century villa in a park located in Switzerland’s historical neutral ground.
Swiss President Parmelin, the host of the summit, welcomed the two leaders with a message of peace. “It is an honor and a pleasure for Switzerland to host you here for this summit and, in accordance with its tradition of good offices, promote dialog and mutual understanding, Parmelin said. I” wish you both a fruitful meeting in the interest of your two countries and the world,” he added.
The climate in the press section was far from peaceful. Russian security quickly got involved, pulling the red rope separating the media and the presidents back to keep the pool away from the leaders.
The pool was repeatedly told to line up separately and in a single file but neither side did. Instead, the journalists pushed and shoved trying to enter the building. There was screaming and yelling as a Swiss official kept asking everyone to be quiet. Poolers were told by the US and Russian officials several times that they would not be allowed inside unless everyone was orderly. That never happened. White House officials repeatedly tried to get the US pool inside, saying that the US and Russia had agreed on the numbers.
Chaos broke out. Russian security yelled at journalists to get out and began pushing journalists. Journalists and White House officials screamed back that the Russian security should stop touching them. One of the journalists stumbled over the red rope, almost on the ground.
The Presidents started speaking without any media in the room. At 1:39 PM, only 9 of the 13 White House correspondents present were allowed in the room. As they entered, they were shoved by security and Russian media, tripping over the cords.
Scene from the fracas earlier at the Biden-Putin summit here in Geneva, with Russian security forces pushing me out while President Biden looks on
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) June 16, 2021
Inside the meeting, the environment was much calmer. The two presidents sat in a library together. Beside each was an interpreter, as well as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Biden was seated with his legs crossed. Putin was seated with his hands on his legs.
The two watched and listened to the media scuffle in front of them, appearing amused by the scene. At one point Biden leaned over and spoke to the interpreter and smiled.
Inside the room, a pooler shouted “Mr. President, do you trust Putin?” Biden appeared to nod yes. Another pooler asked Putin if he feared Navalny and what he would do if Ukraine joined NATO. He looked up but didn’t respond.
Biden’s apparent “yes” answer on his trust for Putin was a shock, considering just days prior he had said he would employ a “verify then trust” strategy for the meeting.
The Press Secretary later clarified his response. “During a chaotic free for all with members of the press shouting questions over each other, the President gave a general head nod in the direction of the media. He wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos.”
The first meeting between Biden and Putin finished, lasting 93 minutes. It started at 1:44 PM CEST and wrapped at 3:17 PM CEST. The expanded bilateral meeting is underway and it started at 4:00 PM CEST.