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US and Russia hold ‘substantive’ strategic stability talks as Moscow raps Biden for comments

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By Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood, CNN

US and Russian officials had “professional and substantive talks” on strategic stability in Switzerland, the State Department said in a statement Wednesday.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led a delegation of US officials in a meeting with Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov, the first in a series of “integrated Strategic Stability Dialogue” talks arranged in June at President Joe Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

These strategic talks come as Russia is amassing military might in the Arctic and testing its newest weapons, including an unmanned stealth torpedo powered by a nuclear reactor. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that, “we remain committed, even in times of tension, to ensuring predictability and reducing the risk of armed conflict and threat of nuclear war.”

Washington and Moscow are at odds over issues ranging from ransomware attacks that have penetrated US government agencies, to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, its interference in Ukraine and its detention of Americans. Even so, the Biden administration has stressed that it still seeks to cooperate with Moscow on areas of mutual concern, including climate change.

The meeting was the first in a series of planned engagements meant to improve communication and reduce the possibility of diplomatic missteps at a time of strained relations between the two countries. This first meeting convened as Moscow rapped Biden for remarks about the shaky state of Russia’s economy and the dangers that presents.

‘A real shooting war’

During remarks at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday, Biden warned that Russia is already interfering in the 2022 US midterm elections, that an increase in cyber attacks could lead to war, and that the weakness of Putin’s position makes him even more dangerous.

“We’ve seen how cyber threats, including ransomware attacks, increasingly are able to cause damage and disruption in the real world,” Biden said. “I can’t guarantee this, and they’re as informed as I am, but I think it’s more likely we’re going to end up, we end up in a war. A real shooting war with major power. It’s gonna be as a consequence of a cyber break of great consequence.”

“When I was with Mr. Putin, who has a real problem — he is — he’s sitting on top of an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else,” Biden said. “Nothing else. Their economy is — what? — the eighth smallest in the world now — largest in the world? He knows — he knows he’s in real trouble, which makes him even more dangerous, in my view.”

The Kremlin said on Wednesday Biden was wrong in his assessment that Russia only has nuclear weapons and oil.

“At the very least, they are inherently wrong,” Kremlin Dmitri Peskov said on a conference call with journalists. “The President of the United States spoke about our President, speaking in front of [US] National Intelligence officers. It is clear that such bravura statements are in demand among this audience.

“Obviously, Biden is voicing the messages that are being prepared by his apparatus, his employees. We can see an erroneous knowledge and understanding of modern Russia here,” he said.

Peskov said the Kremlin regrets the US is more of an opponent than a partner despite Putin “repeatedly” demonstrating the “political will” to normalize relations:

At Wednesday’s talks, “the US delegation discussed US policy priorities and the current security environment, national perceptions of threats to strategic stability, prospects for new nuclear arms control, and the format for future Strategic Stability Dialogue sessions,” Price said.

Biden renewed the New START nuclear arms control agreement with Russia during his first month in office, but both countries have said that more work needs to be done to reduce conflict and address new areas of competition.

The space race and cyber offensive capabilities are expected to be on the agenda, sources familiar with the plans have said. Price said the two delegations agreed to meet again at the end of September and to hold informal consultations in the interim to determine topics for expert working groups going forward.

Price also said that senior officials from the State Department and Pentagon will now travel to Brussels, Belgium, to brief allies at NATO headquarters.

After the meetings Wednesday, Ryabkov told TASS news agency that the US showed up in Geneva ready for constructive dialogue.

“They are ready,” TASS quoted the deputy foreign minister as saying. “This is a good thing. They [the US] sent an impressive delegation representing all departments.”

Ryabkov said the US “worked through its agenda 100%” and that there were no surprises for the Russian delegation.

The more formal Russian readout of the meeting was brief. “In accordance with the instructions of the Presidents of the two countries, a comprehensive discussion was held on the approaches of the parties to maintaining strategic stability, the prospects for arms control and measures to reduce risks,” the statement said. “Various aspects of the further development of cooperation on this topic were touched upon.”

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CNN’s Jason Hoffman and Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.

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