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Blinken: Meeting with President Biden a test for Vladimir Putin

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said President Joe Biden will seek better relations with Russia when he meets with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, but will forcefully defend American interests.   Credit: POOL/AFP via Getty Images/FREDERIC J. BROWN

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said President Joe Biden will "make clear" to Russian President Vladmir Putin that the United States is seeking "a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia" when the two leaders meet face-to-face Wednesday.

Blinken, appearing on the Sunday TV political talk show circuit, previewed Biden’s key talking points ahead of the one-on-one meeting with Putin in Geneva. The face-to-face between the two leaders will cap Biden’s first presidential overseas trip. It began Wednesday and included meetings between the president and other world leaders gathered in England for the G-7 summit, as well as meetings with the NATO alliance and European Union leaders.

"This is a beginning of testing the proposition, the question of whether Russia’s interested in a more stable and predictable relationship and finding areas to work together," Blinken said on CNN’s "State of the Union." "We’re not going to get the answer out of one meeting. We will have to see what comes from that meeting."

Biden, who has spoken with Putin by phone twice since taking office, is expected to raise recent cyberattacks against U.S. corporations by Russian-based operatives, escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and human rights abuses, including the treatment of jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.

"This is about the president wanting to do two things and he’s been very clear about it — to tell President Putin directly that we seek a more predictable, stable relationship, and if we’re able to do that, there are areas where it’s in our mutual interest to cooperate," Blinken told CBS’s "Face the Nation." "But if Russia continues to take reckless and aggressive actions, we’ll respond forcefully, as we’ve already done when it comes to election interference, when it comes to the SolarWinds cyberattack, when it comes to the attempt to poison and kill Mr. Navalny. … Russia will have to decide by its actions which direction it wants to go in."

Biden is expected to take a more hard-line posture against Putin compared with former President Donald Trump, who shared a warmer relationship with the Russian leader. After Trump’s first meeting with Putin in July 2018, the two held a joint news conference in Helsinki in which Trump came under bipartisan condemnation for questioning the U.S. intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Biden, speaking to reporters in Newquay, England, after the G-7 Summit, tempered expectations for his meeting with Putin. When asked how he would get Putin to meet his demands, Biden told reporters, "there is no guarantee that you can change a person’s behavior or the behavior of his country."

"Autocrats have enormous power and they don’t have to answer to a public and the fact is that it may very well be that if I respond in kind, which I will, that it doesn’t dissuade him, he wants to keep going," Biden said. "But I think we are going to be moving in a direction where Russia has its own dilemmas, let’s say, dealing with its economy, dealing with COVID, and dealing with not only the United States but Europe writ large and the Middle East."

Blinken said Biden will call on Putin to take action against cyberhacking criminals based in Russia.

"No responsible country should be in the business of harboring in any way criminal organizations engaged in cyberattacks, including ransomware," Blinken said on ABC’s "This Week." "The president is going to make that very clear to President Putin. We are looking for Russian cooperation in dealing with these criminal organizations to the extent they’re operating from Russian territory."

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appearing on "This Week" shortly after Blinken, said he hoped Biden will "demonstrate to Putin, there will be consequences to your actions," if Russia continues to harbor cyber-hackers.

"I think sanctions are great but I think it’s time to start thinking about hitting back," McCaul said. "They need to know that when they do this, there are consequences to their actions and we’re going to hit them back. Until we do that, they’re going to continue with bad behavior."

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