Biden-Putin meeting: American press manhandled by Russian security agents

Media scuffle described by those in the room as 'chaotic'

U.S. reporters and producers were aggressively pushed and shoved by Russian security officials Wednesday at the start of the highly-anticipated meeting in Geneva between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, denying the press full access to what was expected to be a short press availability before the hours-long summit. 

Inside the room, Biden and Putin were seated with a small wooden table in between them, and a large globe was just behind the table. Large U.S. and Russian flags were erected on each side of the globe. 

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Next to the president sat a female interpreter, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin was seated next to an interpreter, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. 

The media scuffle was described by those in the room as "chaotic," with journalists being pushed and shoved. 

Russian security pulled the red rope separating the media from the leaders to try to keep journalists away from the presidents. 

Russian security yelled at journalists to get out of the room, and began pushing them, according to the TV pool report. That was met with screams from U.S. journalists and White House officials, telling Russian security to stop touching them. 

A security officer indicates to the media to step back as (From L) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by DENIS BALIBOUSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A security officer indicates to the media to step back as (From L) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by DENIS BALIBOUSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Both presidents watched and listened to the media scuffle in front of them, and the pool reporter noted that they "appeared amused by the scene." 

"At one point, Biden leaned over and spoke to the interpreter and smiled," the pool report noted. 

Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy explained that a small U.S. delegation traveled with the president to Geneva, and said an even smaller group was expected to be permitted to go into the room where Biden and Putin were meeting. Doocy explained that a video camera was permitted, briefly, in the room, but that the producer with the audio equipment was not.

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Doocy said Russian security officials were tugging at U.S. journalists’ clothing to try to get them out of the room, noting that Swiss officials, the hosts of the event, were trying to get people organized and in line, but were unsuccessful. 

Ahead of the chaotic scene, Putin and Biden made brief remarks. 

Putin thanked Biden for "the initiative to meet today," noting that U.S. and Russian relations "have a lot of issues accumulated that require the highest level meeting," and said that he hoped the meeting "will be productive." 

Biden said that he thinks it "is always better to meet face to face, to try and determine where we have mutual interests to cooperate, and where we don’t."

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At the start of the meeting, Biden was asked by a reporter if he and Putin could trust each other, and whether he trusted the Russian president. Biden nodded affirmatively. 

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said afterward that Biden was not nodding in reaction to any particular question.

"It was a chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other," Bedingfield tweeted. "He said just two days ago in his presser: 'verify, then trust.'"