President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia emerged from their first in-person summit Wednesday and offered broad claims of good will, but it was clear that on issues ranging from cyberattacks to human rights, the two countries remain profoundly divided.
“There has been no hostility,” Mr. Putin said as he met with reporters after the summit in Geneva. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.”
For his part, Mr. Biden said, “The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive.”
But the tensions remained evident.
Mr. Putin denied that Russia has played a role in a spate of increasingly bold cyberattacks against U.S. institutions and said it was the United States that is the biggest offender.
The Russian leader also appeared to give short shrift to what Mr. Biden had said was a key objective of the talks: to establish some “guardrails” that would make some kinds of attacks on critical infrastructure off limits in peacetime.
Mr. Biden said that he had pressed the Russian president on a variety of issues — and that he would not stop doing so.
“I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights,” he said.
“I did what I came to do,” Mr. Biden said.
He expressed optimism that Mr. Putin would not seek to escalate the tensions between the two nations.
“The last thing he wants now is a cold war,” Mr. Biden said, noting that “we have significant cyber-capabilities, and he knows it.”
The high-stakes diplomatic engagement came at the end of a whirlwind weeklong European tour for Mr. Biden in which he sought to rebuild the traditional alliances that often bolstered the United States’ position during the Cold War.
Mr. Biden has argued that the world is at an “inflection point,” with an existential battle underway between democracy and autocracy. But with Mr. Putin at the vanguard of the autocrats, the American leader faced criticism from some quarters for even taking part in the summit.
Sensitive to the dangers of appearing to embrace the Russian leader, the White House insisted that both men hold separate news conferences after the three-hour meeting. Mr. Putin spoke first.
There were signs of easing tensions.
Mr. Putin said the two nations had agreed that their ambassadors, who both returned to their home countries amid the tensions, should return to their posts in the near future. He said they would also begin “consultations” on cyber-related issues.
“We believe the sphere of cybersecurity is extremely important for the world in general — including for the United States, and for Russia to the same degree,” he said.
Mr. Putin, who flew in from Sochi, Russia, arrived first for the summit at an 18th-century Swiss villa perched above Lake Geneva. A short time later, Mr. Biden’s motorcade pulled up as Russian, American and Swiss flags waved in the breeze under a blue sky with the United States entourage.
The two leaders were greeted by President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland, who welcomed them to Geneva, “the city of peace.”
“I wish you both presidents a fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the world,” he said.
During the Cold War, the prospect of nuclear annihilation led to historic treaties and a framework that kept the world from blowing itself up. At this meeting, for the first time, cyberweapons — with their own huge potential to wreak havoc — were at the center of the agenda.
But Mr. Putin’s comments to the media suggested the two leaders did not find much common ground.
In addition to his denials that Russia had played a destabilizing role in cyberspace, he also took a hard line on human rights in Russia.
He said Mr. Biden had raised the issue, but struck the same defiant tone on the matter in his news conference as he has in the past. The United States, Mr. Putin said, supports opposition groups in Russia to weaken the country, since it sees Russia as an adversary.
“If Russia is the enemy, then what organizations will America support in Russia?” Mr. Putin asked. “I think that it’s not those who strengthen the Russian Federation, but those that contain it — which is the publicly announced goal of the United States.”