It’s not out of the question that Biden and Putin could cross paths at some point during the November summit, according to officials, who note that both could at some point attend the same large plenary session. But American officials have ruled out an official meeting and are taking measures to ensure that the American president does not meet his Russian counterpart in the corridor or even in a group photo of the leaders.

“We know what President Biden thinks about President Putin: he considers himself a murderer, he considers himself a war criminal,” said William Taylor, former US ambassador to Ukraine. “You don’t usually meet murderers and war criminals.”

The pair met only once during Biden’s presidency, at a summit in Geneva in the summer of 2021. As Russia subsequently threatened to invade Ukraine, the two spoke several times — the last of which was in February, a few days before the war began.

The G-20 summit, which will be held along the beautiful beaches of Bali, will be the most anticipated multinational gathering in years as the war has tested Europe and strained economies to the brink of recession. Unlike the G-7, which consists exclusively of rich democracies, the G-20 also includes several autocracies. Not all nations present are expected to rally around Ukraine, as European countries have done (though even that alliance is strained, as Italy has a Putin-sympathetic government).

This caused logistical problems for the White House. While Biden plans to avoid Putin, Talks have quietly begun between senior aides in Washington and Beijing for the G-20 to hold the first face-to-face summit between the Chinese president and Xi Jinping, officials said. Normally, the first meeting of the leaders of the world’s two major superpowers would be a major event, but Putin is ready to attract the attention of the international community.

The White House has been in internal discussions for weeks about Putin’s possible presence after Indonesian officials announced the Russian leader would make a rare international trip there. There was little disagreement in the West Wing about the conclusion that Biden should not meet with Putin. But the opinions of foreign policy experts differ more.

Resignation Admiral James Stauridis, the former supreme commander of NATO’s joint forces in Europe, said that if he were advising the president, he would urge him to attend the meeting.

“He should push for Griner’s release, but also take the moment to look Putin in the eye,” Stauridis said, “and tell him that ‘you’re going to lose, you’re going to meet your fate, and it’s not going to work.’ to turn out well for you.”

Both of Biden’s immediate predecessors — Barack Obama and Donald Trump — developed foreign policies that involved direct engagement with traditionally hostile leaders; Obama as a matter of overcoming difficult diplomatic differences, Trump as part of building personal and political alliances. Biden has less involvement abroad. But in addition to his preliminary meeting with Putin, he also spoke directly to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite vowing to turn the nation into a rogue state.

The success of these meetings was limited. Saudi Arabia recently balked at U.S. requests to delay oil output cuts, and a White House spokesman said it was “highly unlikely” that Biden would meet again with the crown prince, who is also scheduled to travel to Indonesia.

Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, recalled that only a few months after the meeting between Putin and Biden in Geneva, Moscow began to gather troops near the Ukrainian border. McFaul said he worries about a similar escalation if Biden meets Putin again.

“It is a difficult challenge. During a crisis, communication channels are important,” McFaul said. “But the problem of the meeting is its legitimization. You give Putin a platform to demand whatever he wants.”

From the first days of the war, the United States emphasized that any negotiations with the Russians to end their invasion must involve Ukrainians. And while diplomatic circles have been buzzing for weeks about the possibility of a surprise visit to Bali by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, US officials downplayed the chance, suggesting he might appear on video.

Biden has said publicly that he will not meet with Putin, but last week made the issue murky.

“Look, I have no intention of meeting him,” Biden said in an interview with CNN. “But, for example, if he came to me at the G-20 and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I would meet with him. I mean, it would depend.”

After that, the White House publicly stated that he “has no intention” of meeting with Putin. But privately, officials acknowledge that if there were a deal to free Griner, the basketball star who served nine years in a Russian prison for drug possession, or Paul Whelan, the former Marine serving 16 years on espionage charges, Biden would potentially would deal. a meeting

Officials stressed that such a meeting would only take place after weeks of behind-the-scenes talks with Moscow, with assurances that a deal would be essentially finalized before the leaders sit down across from each other in Bali. There are currently no plans for such talks, although US officials have said the door is open.

The reception that Putin will receive in Indonesia remains an international guessing game. US officials believe most Western leaders will follow Biden’s lead and treat the Russian leader with contempt, although various European leaders, notably French President Emmanuel Macron, have spoken to Putin at various times to get him to abandon the war.

But it is also unclear what response Putin will receive from Xi Jinping, who in February pledged support for Russia, but has since made it clear that he disapproves of the state of war and Moscow’s nuclear threats.

U.S. and Chinese officials, meanwhile, have been quietly working to arrange a meeting between Xi and Biden, though it has yet to be announced and officials acknowledge it could still fall apart.

Biden has long defined the 21st century as a rivalry between the US and China, and his agenda for the meeting with Xi is likely to be lengthy, including economic warnings to Beijing as well as a call not to try to seize Taiwan. He also could have used the meeting to push Xi to further isolate Putin, the officials said.

“Send a message to Xi Jinping: ‘You are judged by the people you associate with,'” Stauridis said. “Xi may be the only person who can make Putin stop.”

Biden will travel to Asia the day after the midterm elections, and the balance of power in Congress may not yet be known. His first stop on the continent will be the Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before traveling to Indonesia. Many world leaders will then move on to another Pacific summit in Bangkok, but Biden will return to Washington for his granddaughter Naomi’s wedding at the White House.

There will be no shortage of subplots at the G-20.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss, embroiled in an economic disaster largely of her own making, has faced mounting calls to resign after just weeks in office. Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro faces a run-off election at the end of October and may attend as a lame duck – although he has not promised to accept the election results if defeated. And it could be the first international summit for Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, the first far-right candidate elected there since World War II.

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