President Joe Biden on his first foreign foray sought to cast Russia not as a direct competitor to the United States but as a bit player in a world where Washington is increasingly pre-occupied by China.
Aides said Biden wanted to send a message that Putin was isolating himself on the international stage with his actions, ranging from election interference and cyber-attacks against Western nations to his treatment of domestic critics.
But Biden could struggle in a parallel attempt to stop the rot in U.S.-Russia relations and deter the threat of nuclear conflict while also talking down Russia, some observers said.
“The administration wants to de-escalate tensions. It’s not clear to me that Putin does,” said Tim Morrison, a national security adviser during the Trump administration. “The only cards he has to play are those of the disruptor.”
Officials on both sides had played down the chances of major breakthroughs at the talks, and they were right. None materialized.
But the two leaders pledged to resume work on arms control as well as cyber security and to look for areas of possible cooperation, signs of some hope for a relationship between two countries with little common ground of late.
Ties were already frayed when Biden, at the start of his administration, repeated his description of Putin as “a killer.” That deepened a diplomatic rift that saw both countries withdraw their ambassadors from each others’ capital.