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Location, location, location: picking a spot for the Biden-Poutine summit is a tricky task

Hosting the summit brings bragging rights and the selected country becomes the center of international attention for at least 24 hours.

On Tuesday, Biden said it was “his hope and expectation” to meet Putin when he travels to Europe in mid-June for meetings with NATO leaders, the G-7. and the European Union. Putin will not attend these events, but former U.S. officials and analysts say it makes sense for Biden to meet the Russian president somewhere nearby while he is in the neighborhood.

A White House spokesman on Wednesday declined to go beyond Biden’s comments. An official at the Russian Embassy in Washington pointed to comments late last month from a Kremlin spokesperson, who noted that Russia has yet to officially agree to meet.

Already, some European governments have offered their main cities as potential locations, according to media reports. They include a trio of countries used to hosting such gatherings: Switzerland, Finland and Austria. These three countries are considered, in general terms, as “neutral” places: none of them is part of the NATO military alliance, whose growth Putin has long seen as a threat to Russia and its country. sphere of influence.

Former US officials and analysts say a dark horse candidate should not be ruled out. Among the possibilities: Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital; Prague, capital of the Czech Republic; Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia; and maybe, just maybe, the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Of the top three picks, Helsinki is probably the least likely to be selected given what happened when then-President Donald Trump met Putin in the Finnish capital in 2018.

During that rally, Trump lived up to his reputation for being too eager to please Putin when he appeared to accept Putin’s denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election. Trump tried to revisit his comments later, but the backlash was huge and bipartisan.

Going to Helsinki could, arguably, give Biden an opportunity to right Trump a wrong. But, said former U.S. officials and analysts, the comparison to Trump would guide all narratives and eclipse the substance of what Biden and Putin hope to accomplish if they meet.

From the war in Ukraine to how to tackle climate change, the two have a lot to discuss. US-Russian relations are not in the right place, and Moscow and Washington have taken a number of retaliatory measures against each other These last months.

The White House imposed a package of sanctions on Russian officials and expelled several Russian diplomats; the Kremlin responded by expelling US diplomats and severely restricted who the US Embassy in Moscow can hire. Biden also recently admitted that Putin was a “killer”; Putin responded by wishing Biden “good health.”

Still, Biden proposed the summit in a call with Putin last month, a nod to his belief that it is best to maintain solid contact with a world power like Russia at a time when so many threats. transnationals require cooperation. These threats include the coronavirus pandemic, the prevalence of which in a potential host country is also likely to take into account the location of the summit.

Some US officials and outside analysts say Iceland could be a potential location. Iceland can be a little harder to reach than some of the other countries. There is also the problem of being a long-time member of NATO. Additionally, there is currently an active lava-spewing volcano in a visible area of ​​Reykjavik.

But it wouldn’t be the first time Iceland has hosted such an event. Reykjavik was the scene of a popular 1986 meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan. The men nearly struck a major nuclear arms control deal, which was later seen as a key moment in the final years of the Cold War.

Baku would also be a kind of trek, especially for the American side. But if Azerbaijan has strong relations with Washington and Moscow, and that would be a ready-made choice, chances are low that Biden will go. One reason: last year’s brief war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

A Biden visit to Baku would likely offend Armenia, as well as many Armenian-Americans. Biden recently appealed to many in this community by officially acknowledging the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century.

In 2001, Slovenia hosted a summit between then-President George W. Bush and Putin, still a relatively new leader in Russia at the time. (The two have met on several occasions, including in Slovakia.) In 2017, Slovenia offered to host Putin and Trump – noting that Trump’s wife, Melania, was born in Slovenia.

If it wants, the country can have a chance this time around, but there is a caveat: Slovenia joined NATO in 2004, which could put it down on the Russian list. Still, that didn’t seem to bother Putin in 2017, when he welcomed the Slovenian offer to welcome him and Trump.

A US official familiar with Russia’s problems said Putin is not as concerned as the United States and the Europeans about where he will or will not go. “She is a queen of the theater and loves to see NATO and European Union countries worrying about her visit to their territory,” the official said.

The Russian strongman showed up and danced in an Austrian vineyard at the 2018 wedding of that country’s foreign minister. The invitation to Putin, although described as a private matter, led some to question Austria’s loyalty to the European Union, which had condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Others who are watching Russia closely said it was more complicated than saying Putin would go anywhere. A Washington-based Russian analyst said it could come down to Putin’s story with each country in particular, not just whether or not they are a NATO member.

Prague was the scene of a summit in 2010 between then-President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (who was nonetheless operating in Putin’s shadow). Obama and Medvedev signed the new START arms control treaty during this rally.

In mid-April, a Czech official reportedly offered to host Putin and Biden. But that invitation may no longer be in effect because relations between Prague and Moscow have since plunged.

The Czech Republic expelled dozens of Russian diplomats after determining that new evidence showed Russia was behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed at least two people.

Russia has taken retaliatory measures, including placing the Czech Republic on a list of “hostile countries”. According to various Russian media accounts, the list includes the United States and several of Russia’s neighbors, such as Latvia and Estonia.

Daniel Fried, a retired U.S. foreign service officer whose many assignments have included that of ambassador to Poland, said Russian actions, from land invasions to cyberattacks, appear to be costing the country diplomatic space to maneuver – or to meet.

“They keep attacking people and pissing them off,” Fried said. “I’d rather have our problems than Putin’s.”

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