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.
Organizers at Wednesday’s summit in Geneva opened the meeting room to journalists for what’s normally a few minutes of news media filming and shouting questions before talks start.
On Wednesday, however, Russian and U.S. security forces and officials initially blocked journalists as they tried to enter the room.
The scene then devolved into minutes of chaos inside the meeting room.
American journalists described Russian security and news media grabbing them by the arms and clothes to try to hold them back. U.S. journalists tried to shoulder their way in, and a U.S. reporter was knocked to the ground.
Before the scene calmed, some in the crowd shouted they were being crushed in the melee.
Biden and Putin initially sat awkwardly in front of the press, but then watched and at times laughed at the tumult.
Meanwhile, the White House went into full-blown damage-control mode and stressed that President Biden was not suggesting to reporters that he trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin with his reaction to a reporter’s question in Geneva.
At the start of a high-stakes summit in Geneva, Biden appeared to suggest that he can take the Russian leader at his word, nodding his head during a photo opportunity when asked by a reporter if Putin can be trusted.
Communications director Kate Beddingfield said later there was a “chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other” in that moment.
She argued that Biden “was very clearly not responding to any one question” when a journalist asked if he trusted Putin.
Journalists and security officials were shoving to get into the small room where Biden and Putin are meeting.
Bedingfield said Biden was “nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”
She noted that Biden on Monday told reporters that his approach with Putin would be to “verify, then trust.”
Biden’s press secretary Jan Psaki later said that the president “wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos.”