As he was leaving the makeshift stage in Geneva, Collins asked him, “Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?”
Biden bristled and responded; “I am not confident he will change his behavior. Where the hell … what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said, what I said was — let’s get it straight — I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I am not confident of anything. I am just stating the facts.”
But Collins went on. “But given his past behavior has not changed and in that press conference after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks. He downplayed human rights abuses. He even refused to say Alexey Navalny’s name. So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as President Putin put it?”
Biden responded, “If you don’t understand that, you are in the wrong business.”
Later, before he boarded Air Force One for his flight back to Washington, he spoke to reporters and said, “I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn’t have been such a wiseguy for the answer I gave.”
On CNN, Collins said: “That is completely unnecessary. He did not need to apologize. … It is just our job to ask the president questions. That is the business we are in.”
Q: "Why are you so confidant he'll change his behavior, Mr. President?"
President Biden: "I'm not confidant…Where he hell–what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confidant? I said…" pic.twitter.com/fdPTAI2Dfy
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 16, 2021
After apologizing, Biden then answered more questions on the tarmac in an unusual exchange in which he elaborated on the summit and the prospects for improved relations with Putin. Yet Biden still complained over coverage, and told the journalists gathered that “to be a good reporter you have got to be negative. You have got to have a negative view of life, it seems to me. You never ask a positive question.”
Pres. Biden says G7 nations, along with NATO, EU, "are glad America is back" and thanked him for arranging summit with Putin.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 16, 2021
During the official press conference, carried by major cable news and broadcast networks, Biden had called on a list of pre-selected reporters, trying both to show that the summit had achieved its objectives — “I did what I came to do” — and to show that this was a much different relationship with Putin than the Russian leader had with Trump.
“There was a lot of hype around this meeting, but it was pretty straightforward to me,” he said.
Biden defended the shorter-than-expected length, saying that the two leaders already had run through the list of issues they wanted to address. “After two hours there, we looked at each other like, ‘OK, what happens next?'”
He also cast the meeting as a success, saying that they have an agreement to pursue cooperation in areas such as arms control, while Putin offered help in areas such as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trying to contrast his approach to Putin with that of his predecessor, Biden said that he made it clear to Putin that the U.S. would continue to raise “issues of fundamental human rights” and that the U.S. would act if there were further cyberattacks connected to Russia. Asked how the U.S. would respond if Navalny were to die or be killed, Biden said he made it clear that the consequences “would be devastating for Russia.”
Perhaps more than anything, Biden seemed to want to convey that, while there are prospects for progress, he is realistic — certainly more than his predecessor. Back in 2018, in their joint press conference in Helsinki, Trump famously sided with Putin, rather than U.S. intelligence, over the issue of election interference.
“This is not about trust,” Biden said. “This is about self interest, and verification of self interest.”