Putin-Biden summit: Inside the room where the world leaders will meet

Inside the room where Biden will meet Putin: Library at 18th century Swiss villa filled with tomes on history and ancient languages will host first face-to-face talks between the world leaders

  • Biden and Putin will meet in Geneva today for first face-to-face talks since the former became president 
  • Two men will sit down for hours of close discussions in the grand library of an 18th century Swiss villa
  • Talks will then progress to a larger room where leaders will be joined by senior advisers before parting ways
  • Villa has previously played host to Pope Paul VI, while Geneva was the site of the first meeting between presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in 1985 

Heavy wooden bookcases lined with leather-bound tomes, Grecian-style urns stood atop them with busts of great thinkers positioned nearby: This is the room where Joe Biden will meet with Vladimir Putin later today. 

The library of Villa de la Grange, an 18th century mansion in the Swiss city of Geneva, will host hours of talks between the two men accompanied only by their most senior foreign policy advisors and translators.

Among books including annuals of history and ancient languages, the pair are expected to discuss thorny issues including including Ukraine, cyber attacks and human rights at a time when relations between the two nuclear-armed adversaries are at their lowest point for years.

The villa has in the past played host to the likes of Pope Paul VI, who gave a speech on justice and peace to a crowd of some 70,000 in the grounds in 1969. 

Geneva was also the city which hosted the first talks between presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 which led to arms control agreements between the US and Russia and kick-started better relations – an outcome that many will be hoping for, but few expecting, later on today. 

The library of Villa de la Grange, in Geneva, will play host to hours of close talks between Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, their closest advisors and translators as the pair meet face-to-face for the first time since BIden became president today

The library was created in the 19th century by businessman and intellectual Guillaume Favre and hosts a collection of books on subjects including history, literature and ancient languages

Following talks in the library, the men will move to a larger room nearby (pictured) where they will be joined by several more advisors to continue the discussions, before going their separate ways

The house and grounds are typically open to the public, but today are blocked off by a ring of steel fences topped with barbed wire and are crowded by security and press instead

The day is due to begin around 1pm local time (11am GMT) when Putin and Biden will arrive separately at the villa – built by ship-owner and merchant Francois Favre – which is set in a 30-acre park in the centre of Geneva.

Putin will arrive first, followed by Biden, where the two men will shake hands with Swiss president Guy Parmelin who is expected to offer opening remarks. Biden and Putin are not expected to make comments.

The meeting will then progress to the library, which was created in the 19th century by Favre’s son Guillaume – a businessman and intellectual who was active in scholarly circles around the time of the French Revolution.

There, Putin and Biden will have closed-door discussions on thorny subjects including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, cyber attacks that the US blames on Moscow, the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the recent hijack of a Ryanair jet over Russia’s close ally Belarus.

Joining Putin and Biden in that meeting will be Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. That will be followed by the larger gathering before the two sides part ways, with Putin and Biden offering their views of one-another separately.

Their remarks will be heavily scrutinised after the two men exchanged barbs at a distance earlier this year.

Biden infuriated Moscow by agreeing with the description of Putin as ‘a killer’, before the Russian president quipped back that it ‘takes one to know one.’

There is little expectation of warmth between the two men today – with Biden striking an icy tone ahead of time – but it is hoped they will come to a better understanding of one-another. 

Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president.

His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.

He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an ‘autocrat,’ and conventional politicians like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

But with Putin, whom the president has said is a ‘killer’ and has ‘no soul,’ Biden has long been wary. 

At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five U.S. presidents, is not without talent. Biden this week suggested that he is approaching his meeting with Putin carefully.

‘He’s bright. He’s tough,’ Biden told reporters. ‘And I have found that he is a – as they say…a worthy adversary.’

There are hopes of finding small areas of agreement.

No commitments have been made, but according to the senior administration official, there are hopes that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective postings following the meeting. 

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.

Both ambassadors will be in Geneva during Wednesday’s meeting.

Relations between the US and Russia are at their lowest point in years with Biden (left) and Putin (right) exchanging barbs at a distance earlier this year. Few expect any warmth at today’s summit, but hope the two sides can still reach agreements

Rolling out the red carpet: A cleaner gives the entrance to the villa one last go-over with a hoover before the Russian and American delegations arrive for today’s summit

A member of the Russia delegation arrives at the villa ahead of Putin, who is expected to get their first, followed by Biden

Members of the media sit outside the villa, where they will witness Putin and Biden arrive, shake hands with Swiss president Guy Parmelin and then sit down for talks

Russian and American flags line the waterfront of Lake Geneva, just a short distance from where the summit will take place

Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control by holding ‘strategic stability’ talks – a series of government-to-government discussions meant to sort through the many areas of disagreement and tension on the national security front.

The Biden team will press its concerns on cybersecurity. In recent months, Russia-based hackers have launched crippling attacks on a major U.S. oil pipeline and a Brazil-headquartered meat supplier that operates in the U.S.

The Russian side has said that the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is an internal political matter and one area where Putin won’t engage Biden. 

But the senior Biden administration official said there ‘is no issue that is off the table for the president,’ suggesting Navalny will come up.

The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Biden has prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers.

Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon arriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.

‘I am always ready,’ Biden said. 

The 18th century Swiss villa where Biden and Putin will hold talks for FIVE HOURS

When President Joe Biden meets Vladimir Putin for a ‘straightforward’ conversation with his ‘worthy adversary,’ the two men will sit down for their summit meeting inside an ornate 18th century villa on the bank of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

The two men are set to meet in Geneva at the Villa de la Grange, a building with a long history that is located near the luxury hotel where Biden is staying. With its stocked Empire bookcases, Trompe l’oeil ceiling details, and colorful rose garden, the building and grounds offers bountiful opportunities for photo-ops and small talk. 

Biden and Putin have met before, although the conversations haven’t always gone smoothly. Biden claims he once told Putin he had ‘no soul.’ Putin, in a recent interview when asked about Biden, went on about Donald Trump’s persona, then called Biden a career politician. But Biden put his best foot forward at a press conference Monday in Brussels when he declined to call Putin a ‘killer.’

By selecting a well-appointed Geneva villa for the summit, diplomats were taking a page from the 1985 summit between Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev, where a photograph of the two men before a fireplace set the tone for serious arms control talks that would follow. 

The Reagan and Gorbachev summits set a framework for how powerful adversaries can find set aside areas for negotiation and agreement even amid larger disputes. 

President Joe Biden will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Villa de la Grange in Geneva

The building was constructed in the 18th century and modified by banking and merchant families

‘The optics are nice. You can’t really picture the two of them meeting in like a sauna or a Burger King,’ said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington.

 ‘Usually villas come with grounds. That gives you a security perimeter. They’re often on the water,’ he added. ‘And they have enough rooms in them that you’ve got staff nearby at your beck and call. So that’s usually why it’s in a villa.’

The two men are expected to meet for four to five hours, Bloomberg reported, with aides saying they will meet in a smaller as well as an expanded meeting with staff. Meetings are expected to begin in the afternoon, in keeping with a schedule Biden has kept throughout his trip to Britain and Brussels.   

As the host city, Swiss authorities are providing the neutral venue. They also have brought in an anti-aircraft gun, installed concertina wire, and taken other precautions around the city for the summit. 

The meeting is tacked onto an eight-day trip where Biden has been soliciting advice from allied leaders on how to contend with Putin.

Both men taking part in the summit have the taste for the good life, although Biden’s relatively humble $3 million Delaware beach house and classic Corvette Sting Ray might not meet Putin’s standards. Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny claims Putin is the owner of a $1 billion Black Sea palace that was built for him. The Kremlin denies it. 

The Swiss villa was built between 1768 and 1773 by a prominent Lullin family, but banker Jean Lullin had to part with it after his finances took a turn for the worse after the Geneva Revolution – a push to extend the franchise that was put down by armed troops. He sold it to an industrialist born in Marseille, who like succeeding owners made changes and additions, before it ultimately ended up in the hands of the city of Geneva, according to information on the villa provide by the city.

The tranquil setting could be a remedy to reset a relationship that Biden and Putin have described as at a ‘low point.’

‘I think he’s right, it’s a low point, and it depends on how he responds to acting consistently with international norms, which in many cases he has not,’ Biden said. 

A boat with police officers patrols alongside the shore of the Lake Geneva near the ‘Villa La Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland Monday, June 14, 2021

Big Guns: Anti-aircraft cannon of the Swiss Army on the bank of the Geneva lake near the Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, 14 June 2021

The topics on the table are deadly serious: Nuclear arms, Russian election interference, ransomware attacks, the invasion of ukraine, a potential prisoner swap, and treatment of political prisoners in Russia included jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  

A city official wouldn’t say whether the two men would meet in the villa’s bibliotheque, the library, which was created with two rooms of the 12,000 volumes that were on hand.

‘We do not have information on where the presidents will meet,’ the official told DailyMail.com, speaking in French. 

The room has books in tongues including Turkish, Persian, Chinese, Hungarian, and various Germanic language, after summit meetings where the White House said Biden would meet dozens of foreign leaders.  

 It is unlikely the meeting will have lighthearted moments from the Helsinki summit, like when Putin presented Donald Trump with a soccer ball (which was later revealed to pose security issues since Adidas puts a microchip in side).

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatchev share jokes on a break during the Geneva summit in 1985. The two met in a different villa which is now up for sale

Biden hopes to elevate U.S.-Russia to bring them to a more stable and predictable level

‘The bottom line is that I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet, for he and I to have our discussion – I know you don’t doubt that I’ll be very straightforward with him about our concerns,’ Biden said before the summit. On Monday, he called Putin a ‘worthy adversary.’

The Reagan-Gorbachev summit in 1985 took place at the Villa Fleur d’Eau, a newer mansion built in the 19th-century villa. That building has 26 rooms – and is now up for sale. ‘

According to a real estate listing it has been ‘fully converted into offices’ with ‘superior quality materials and is in a state one could consider as new’ and is occupied by a global trading company.

‘However, the building could just as easily be converted back into a dwelling.’ 

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