President Biden won’t scrap his summit this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to suspected Russian cybercriminals disrupting work at a major US meat producer, the White House says.
JBS Foods, the world’s largest meat supplier, was crippled by a cyberattack just weeks after hackers suspected of residing in Russia attacked the Colonial Pipeline, causing US gas prices to surge as stations across the Southeast ran dry.
“We do not regard, as you can imagine, this meeting with the Russian president as a reward, right? We regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests. President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country’s differences, not in spite of them,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
JBS controls an estimated 20 percent of the US slaughtering capacity for cattle and pigs, meaning the hack could result in higher prices for US consumers as worker shifts are canceled.
“There’s a lot we have to work through. President Biden is the most effective communicator of American values and priorities, and hearing directly from President Putin is the most effective way to understand Russian plans and intents,” Jean-Pierre said during a gaggle aboard Air Force One during a flight to Tulsa, Okla.
“There is no substitute — right? — for leader-to-leader engagement, particularly for complex relationships. So it is important for President Biden to sit down with President Putin face to face to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage differences and to identify areas where we can make progress.”
The summit meeting on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland, comes shortly after the Biden administration last month decided to waive sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which the Trump administration feared would make US allies including Germany economically dependent on Russia.
Biden in April offered Putin the summit during a call in which he informed him of US plans to expel diplomats and apply new sanctions as punishment for alleged Russian meddling in the 2020 election and the SolarWinds hack that impacted US government systems. Russia reciprocated.
Biden’s summit with the former KGB agent carries significant political risk if he appears weak against the authoritarian leader. After a 2018 summit with Putin, President Donald Trump was forced into damage control due to criticism of his remarks seeming to accept Putin’s denial of hacking Democrats in 2016. Trump said he misspoke.
Biden already has lightened his approach toward Putin on several occasions.
As a presidential candidate, Biden repeatedly attacked Trump for not punishing Putin over unconfirmed intelligence that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan. But Biden has been quiet on the issue since US spy agencies concluded in April they don’t have high confidence in the claim.
And Biden appeared to blink in April on a decision to send warships to the Black Sea in response to a Russian troop buildup on the borders of Ukraine. The Pentagon ordered a U-turn by two US destroyers.
The summit will follow Putin’s ally, Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko, forcing down a commercial passenger jet to detain a dissident journalist. But the Putin administration indicated this week it will seek to turn the tables on Biden if he brings up human rights issues, saying that Russia is tracking the “persecution” of Trump supporters who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.