Russian state media has gone berserk in the run-up to the summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month.
Evgeny Popov, host of Russia’s state TV show 60 Minutes, baselessly claimed that President Biden was finally able to secure a meeting with Putin only after “begging” for it. “They’re certainly celebrating this at the White House,” Popov claimed. His wife and co-host, Olga Skabeeva, said: “The whole world wants to meet with Putin, but absolutely everyone is afraid to do so, because they know that Putin will dominate. Trump was afraid of that—and all of us remember how it ended for Trump.”
The Kremlin was more subdued in its public statements. During a conference call with reporters, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I would caution against having excessive expectations regarding results of the meeting, but rather proceeding from the assumption that the event is very important in practical terms.”
The summit in Geneva will follow Biden’s visit to Britain for a Group of Seven meeting and a NATO summit in Brussels. The timing rubbed Russian state TV experts the wrong way.
“I’m deeply disappointed,” complained Andrey Sidorov, deputy dean of world politics at Moscow’s State University, appearing on Wednesday’s segment of Russia’s state TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev. Sidorov bemoaned Biden’s schedule, where the summit with Putin is slated as only one of multiple stops on his European agenda. “Biden should have come to Europe solely for this summit [with Putin], not merely as a part of his European tour,” Sidorov ranted.
Russian state media is portraying the controversial decision by the Biden administration to lift some of the sanctions on the Russia-to-Germany pipeline, Nord Stream 2, as another example of America bowing to Russia. “Americans are crawling away,” Skabeeva surmised. “We forced Biden to respect us,” claimed Alexei Naumov, from the Russian International Affairs Council. “Biden is afraid that Russia will knock his teeth out,” opined host Evgeny Popov, referring to threatening statements Putin made last week.
TV host Vladimir Soloviev downplayed the significance of the summit altogether, citing previous letdowns after Putin’s get-togethers with former President Donald Trump. “Talks with American presidents don’t bring any results,” Soloviev said, “Any agreements get blocked by the Senate and Congress, just like what happened with Trump... Our president can make decisions, but the American president is limited in what he can do.”
The agenda of the summit is expected to include strategic stability, arms control, the situation in Ukraine, and the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight by Russia’s close ally Belarus in order to arrest a dissident journalist. Russian pundits and experts were furious that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko managed to hijack the agenda with the shocking mid-flight takedown. Still, they expressed relief at Biden’s hesitation to blame the Kremlin for its possible involvement and envied Lukashenko for his resolve.
Russian state TV pundits described opposition activists as “cockroaches in our kitchen” and openly wished that the Russian government did more to ensnare them, in Europe and elsewhere. During his nightly show, Soloviev said that while he is not suggesting that the Russian government emulate Lukashenko’s tactics, steps could be taken to apprehend and criminally prosecute opposition activists, regardless of where they reside.
“Don’t underestimate these cockroaches,” said political scientist Sergey Mikheev, urging the authorities to be more proactive in apprehending members of the opposition. Aleksey Chesnakov, director of the Institute for Current Politics, added: “Their geotags are easily available.”
“You can’t give in to the West, even in small things,” argued Sidorov. “If there are roaches in your kitchen, you poison them.” He concluded that Russia should not fear any repercussions and brace itself for the inevitable sanctions from the West: “Like Belarus, Russia has nothing to lose.”
Putin’s rhetoric is in line with the aggressive saber-rattling by state-run Russian media. During a televised meeting streamed live last Thursday, Putin complained: “Everyone wants to bite us or to bite something off from us. But they should know that we will knock their teeth out so that they won’t be able to bite at all. And the way to guarantee that is the development of our armed forces.”
Pro-Kremlin propagandists on state television quickly clarified that Putin’s message was directed at Washington, and discussed a baseless conspiracy theory that the United States and its allies have been plotting for decades to steal Siberia away from Russia. Earlier last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also made waves by claiming that the Arctic region belongs to Russia, when he described it as “our territory, our land.” Lavrov added: “When NATO tries to justify its advancement into the Arctic, that is a different story.”
Russia is coming into the summit positioning itself as a power to be reckoned with, while Kremlin-controlled media is scoffing at the topics of the meeting proposed by the American side, speculating that Putin would come up with his own agenda. Soloviev, who often boasts of a close relationship with the Russian president, said that Putin is going to the summit solely to disabuse Biden of his “big illusions.” Soloviev asserted: “We have to be tough. The time for softness is over. There is no such thing as strategic stability.”
Appearing on the state TV show 60 Minutes last Thursday to discuss Russia’s relationship with America, lawmaker Aleksei Zhuravlyov said there was not a single issue on which Russia should be cooperating with America. Discussing the upcoming summit, Zhuravlyov said: “There is nothing for us to hope for. No reason for us to be at that summit... Biden is coming to tell us how he’s going to allow us to finish the Nord Stream 2. Get the hell out of here! We’ll allow ourselves to do it. There is nothing they can do to us. We have the best weapons in the world.”
Fueling the pervasive anti-American attitude that is being sold to Russian audiences by the Kremlin-controlled media, the lawmaker angrily exclaimed: “Those goats will always be our enemies!”