07:16 GMT14 June 2021
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    Longstanding tensions between Russia and the US have escalated under Joe Biden’s administration, which has ramped up Washington’s sanctions war against Moscow and sought to shore up alliances against both Russia and China. Presidents Putin and Biden will sit down for their first face-to-face summit meeting in Geneva, Switzerland next week.

    The United States “would prefer a more stable relationship” with Russia, but has made clear “that if Russia chooses to act aggressively and recklessly toward us or toward our allies or partners, we will respond,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

    Speaking to Axios on Sunday, the top US diplomat said that his boss would be meeting with his Russian counterpart on 16 June “not in spite of” the latest US claims about Russian cyberattacks, but “because of them.”

    Biden, Blinken stressed, will tell President Vladimir Putin “directly and clearly what he can expect from the United States if aggressive, reckless actions toward us continue.”

    He went on to suggest that Washington and Moscow could enjoy an improvement in relations if Russia changes course.

    The secretary’s comments come amid the latest claims by US authorities and media of possible Russian involvement in cyberattacks, this time against a US energy company and an American subsidiary of a Brazilian meat giant. Officials claim Russia-based actors are ‘likely’ responsible for a string of cyberattacks against private companies. On Sunday, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also warned that US adversaries had also developed the capability to shut down America’s power grids.

    The United States has failed to provide any substantive evidence to back up its claims of Russian actors’ alleged involvement in the corporate hacks, but has nonetheless continued to use hacking incidents to slap sanctions against Russian companies and other entities. Russia has vocally denied any involvement in any cybercriminal activities, and has proposed enhancing cybersecurity cooperation with the United States, with its overtures repeatedly rejected by the US side.

    Commenting on the upcoming summit, Blinken said he couldn’t say at this point whether he was “optimistic or not about the results,” and added that he didn’t think “we’re going to know after one meeting, but we’’ll have some indications.”

    In the same interview, Blinken went on to attack China for allegedly trying to “fill voids where we’ve been relatively disengaged,” and promised to ‘hold Beijing accountable’ for the coronavirus amid US officials' and the media’s latest lab leak allegations.

    On Saturday, Biden published an op-in in the Washington Post suggesting that the US and its allies were prepared to respond to “future harmful activities” by Russia, but at the same time were not seeking conflict with Moscow ahead of the summit, during which the presidents are expected to discuss areas where the two countries can cooperate despite tensions – such as arms control.

    The US president went on to indicate that Washington would “confront” Russia and China over their “harmful activities,” and “lead the world from a position of strength.”

    On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the upcoming Putin-Biden summit “a very important meeting” but warned against “inflated expectations,” given the existing tensions between Russia and the US” on a host of issues. Peskov stressed that Russia was always supportive of improving relations, but only on the basis of “mutual understanding and consideration for each other’s interests.”

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