How Russia Reacted To Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden Talks

President Vladimir Putin has praised the talks he held with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, as Russia's media assessed whether the virtual conversation would lead to a real easing of tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Since the Russian and American presidents met in Geneva in June, there has been a stepping up of Washington's sanctions on Moscow, dovetailing with a growing international outcry over Russia's military buildup next to its border with Ukraine.

Putin described Tuesday's conversation as "very open, substantive and, I would say, constructive," telling reporters "I hope that this is how the American side assesses the results of our meeting," news agency Tass reported.

However, Putin also told Wednesday's press conference, held with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, that Moscow reserves the right to "defend its security" although would not say if he planned to invade Ukraine, and reiterated his call for NATO not to push for Kyiv's membership.

His assessment of the talks with Biden was diplomatic enough as Russian media outlets focused on the topic of Ukraine in their assessment of the leaders' conversation.

"Between Kyiv and a hard place," was the headline in the business daily Kommersant in an article which described how Putin continued to push in the talks for a legally binding treaty on the non-expansion of the alliance.

"However, the discussion of this fundamental issue for Moscow by the presidents of Russia and the United States did not lead to any result. At least for now," the article said.

"Talks between Russian and U.S. presidents last for two hours," was the more prosaic headline in the Kremlin mouthpiece newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Joe Biden via a video call on December 7, 2021. Putin warned against NATO encroachment on his country's borders. Mikhail Metzel/Getty

Political scientist Alexander Rahr told the paper the time the leaders spoke suggested "it was not a conversation of threats."

Rahr also said the pair are "yet to make more specific statements on its results but I hope that it will really facilitate de-escalation."

The front page of the newspaper Izvestia, splashed with the headline "Tete-a-nyet" in a play on the Russian word for "no" and the expression tête-à-tête.

It referred to how the White House had issued a readout of the meeting which said Biden had "reaffirmed his support for Ukraine's sovereignty."

It also said the U.S. and its allies would "respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation" at Ukraine.

Dmitry Suslov, deputy director at Moscow's Higher School of Economics told the publication this showed that the Biden administration "cannot afford to even hint at a compromise, taking into account the internal political pressure from the Republicans."

The Kremlin also gave a different and somewhat more detailed take on the Biden-Putin conversation than the U.S. did.

Its readout accused NATO of "dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory" and lamented a "lack of progress" in the Minsk agreements, the deal aimed at ending hostilities in eastern Ukraine ongoing since Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea.

The Kremlin statement also tried to put the current diplomatic impasse within the context of the Cold War and even further back.

"The presidents recalled the alliance of the two countries during the Second World War. They emphasized that the sacrifices made then should not be forgotten," it said.

Also harking back to history was Russian senator Alexei Pushkov, who used to head the Duma (lower house) foreign affairs committee, who compared Tuesday's talks with previous summits of leaders from Moscow and Washington.

He described the summit between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy in June 1961, as leading towards the brink of nuclear war, during the Cuban missile crisis the following year.

"Then Cuba was at the center of the crisis," he wrote on his Telegram social media channel. "Today, the escalation of tension around Ukraine may lead to a new crisis comparable to what happened in the Caribbean."