Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he wants to improve Moscow’s ties with Washington when he holds his first summit with US counterpart Joe Biden later this month, but he set a tough tone ahead of the meeting and said the US wants to “hold back” Russia’s development.
The face-to-face meeting scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 16 comes amid deeply strained relations between the United States and Russia.
Tensions are running high over a litany of issues including the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and the conflict in Ukraine, as well as allegations of hacking and election meddling.
“We need to find ways of looking for a settlement in our relations, which are at an extremely low level now,” Putin told the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
Putin said that disarmament, the coronavirus pandemic and environmental issues will also be on the agenda.
The 68-year-old said Russia had “no issues with the United States”.
“But it has an issue with us: they want to hold back our development, they talk about it publicly,” he said.
Both Russia and the US have downplayed expectations of any breakthrough at the Geneva meeting.
The Kremlin has said that differences between Moscow and Washington run too deep for a major “reset” in relations, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warning earlier this week that Russia would send what he described as “uncomfortable” signals to the US ahead of the summit.
Ryabkov’s comments on Monday came a day after Biden said he would press Putin to respect human rights when the two leaders meet.
Since taking office in January, Biden has imposed new sanctions on Moscow over alleged election meddling and cyberattacks.
Putin on Friday said the measures were driven by domestic political competition in the US and were an “enigma” to Moscow.
Speaking on other issues, Putin announced that the laying of pipes for the first of two lines of the prospective Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany has now been fully completed, leaving only welding works to finalise its construction. He said the second line will follow suit soon.
The Russian leader hailed the project as a better economic option than an existing pipeline via Ukraine, rejecting Ukrainian and Western criticism that it is designed to rob Ukraine of transit fees.
Putin said Russia will continue pumping 40 billion cubic metres of gas via Ukraine a year in line with the existing five-year contract, and could continue doing so after it expires if Ukraine shows “goodwill”.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a tense tug-of-war following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support for separatists in the country’s east.
The US has strongly opposed construction of the new Russian pipeline, but last month waived some sanctions on the project – a move Biden justified by saying that the project was nearly complete, and that continuing sanctions could have harmed ties with Europe.
The Kremlin has hailed that decision as a “positive signal” before the Putin-Biden summit.
Putin also said European nations should pay for Russian gas in euros, as Moscow pursues its de-dollarisation efforts amid US sanctions.
“The euro is completely acceptable for us in terms of gas payments. This can be done, of course, and probably should be done,” he said.
Putin went on to deplore what he said was Washington’s use of the dollar as an economic and political tool, saying that “its use as an instrument of competition and political struggle has hurt its role as the world reserve currency”.
Russia announced on Thursday it will completely remove the US dollar from its National Wealth Fund and turn the dollar-denominated assets into euros, yuan and gold.
Russia has long moved to reduce the dollar’s share in its hard currency reserves amid the waves of US sanctions imposed on the country.