Biden meets with Putin amid concerns about Russian cyberattacks, American prisoners

Relations between the U.S. and Russia are said to be at their lowest since the Cold War. The two leaders met in Geneva where Putin was questioned about his human rights abuses.
10:00 | 06/17/21

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Transcript for Biden meets with Putin amid concerns about Russian cyberattacks, American prisoners
before both men started this meeting they both said they agreed that u.s./russia relations were at an all-time low. By the time the day ended they had shaken hands, they called this summit productive, they said there was no hostility here in Geneva. President Biden said he didn'ted Putin over election interference, over human rights, over alexei navalny and his fate. On cyber attacks the president said he did not issue threats but he warned Putin the united States has significant cyber capabilities of its own, including giving Russia a list of 16 important facilfacilities, areas of critical infrastructure that should be off limits from attack, from energy sector to the water supply. Thank you, Cecilia. After meeting for several hours, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin both calling the summit productive. President Putin and I had -- share a unique responsibility, to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries. A relationship that has to be stable and predictable. Translator: Both sides expressed the intention to understand each other and to seek common ground. Reporter: Today's summit in Geneva follows a long and unresolved list of grievances from Russian cyber attacks -- The white house issuing that stern warning to Russia. Reporter: To meddling in U.S. Elections -- We saw some foreign nations, Russia and Iran, attempt to probe for voter information -- Reporter: Americans stuck in Russian jails on charges te deny -- I'm asking for help. Reporter: Repeated violations of human rights. The high-stakes face-to-face meeting the most anticipated of Joe Biden's young presidency, an opportunity to reset relations between the U.S. And Russia, said to be at their lowest since the cold war. I think it went as planned. I think everybody played the role they wanted to play. Joe Biden came here wanting to set down some lines and tell Vladimir Putin what he thought, what he shouldn't do. Vladimir Putin wanted to do the same then, he wanted to appear in front of the world press, he did that. So I think in that sense, they got what they wanted. Reporter: The two leaders came together at an 18th century villa the shores of lake Geneva. The Russian president known to make world leaders wait, arriving on time for this meeting. Compare Biden's approach to Putin as compared to trump. Donald Trump, he loves that sort of back and forth with these guys, with a Kim Jong-un or a Putin. And Biden? I don't think Biden is looking for a relationship. I think Biden played absolutely out of a diplomatic playbook. He wanted to go in there, he wanted to tell Vladimir Putin what he intended to do, what he didn't want Vladimir Putin to do. Reporter: One of the biggest issues before the meeting, American support for Russian opposition leader alexei navalny. Over the Rhone river, protesters hung a banner with an unmistakable message, navalny poisoned, still no investigation, how come, president Putin? ABC's Rachel Scott explains what happened next. I'm standing in this long line, mostly members of the Russian press corps, as well as some aides to the Kremlin. When they turned around and saw that banner that was there, loud rumblings. People let out a loud sigh. I remember one of the Russian press aides rolling her eyes. Within a few minutes we saw a police boat arrive. It took that banner down. Reporter: That image of navalny making a heart with his hands came from a gesture he made to his wife before he was led away to prison camp. In February the fierce Putin critic was sentenced to 2 years 8 months for violating terms of probation from an old sentence in 2014. Already found to be unjust by the European court of human rights. Prison officials claimed he had violated parole by failing to check in on multiple occasions. Including while he was in Germany, recovering from the nerve agent poisoning that nearly killed him last August. But last week, a Russian court outlawed navalny's group, branding it an extremist network. Rachel Scott was one of the few American journalists able to ask Putin questions today. When she asked about human rights abuses, the Russian president deflected repeatedly. The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned, or jailed is long. Alexei navalny, his organization called for free and fair elections, an end to corruption. Mr. President, what are you so afraid of? Translator: The organization that you mentioned has been -- has publicly called for a mass disorder. They have publicly called for breaking the law. America just recently had very severe events, well-known events after a killing, killing of an African-American. And an entire movement developed, known as black lives I'm not going to comment on that. But here's what I do want to say. What we saw was disorder, destruction, violations of the law, et cetera. We feel sympathy for the united States of America, but we don't want that to happen on our territory. You didn't answer my question, sir. If all of your political opponents are dead, in prison, poisoned, doesn't that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight? Translator: As for who is killing whom, throwing whom in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands. 400 people. Over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them. They face prison sentences of up to 20, maybe even 25 years. They're being called domestic terrorists. I'd like to stress once more that we sympathize with what happened in the United States, but we have no desire to allow the same thing to happen in our country. Reporter: Naturally, the president of the United States disagreed with that assessment. That's a ridiculous it's one thing for literally criminals to breakthrough cordon, go into the capitol, kill a police officer, and be held unaccountable, than it is for people objecting, marching on a capitol and saying, you are not allowing me to speak freely, you are not allowing me to do a, B, C, or D. So they're very different criteria. Reporter: Cyber attacks, another critical issue between the two countries. From Russia's meddling in the last two presidential elections to its role in the 2020 solar winds hack, government systems, and other operations. Russia seems to be first among equals when we're talking about the most critical threats that are being launched via the cyber front and whether it's the Russian government or these criminal groups. Reporter: Today president Biden relating that he confronted Putin on the string of ransomware attacks, including oil giant colonial pipeline. I looked at him, I said, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said, it wouldn't matter. Reporter: The colonial breach caused the shutdown of more than 5,000 miles of pipeline along the east coast, leading to fuel shortages and panic at the pump. Everywhere I go, it's bags over the gas pumps. Reporter: Even though Putin continues to deny Russia engages in cyber warfare, Biden gave him a list of 16 critical infrastructure targets that he considers off limits. I pointed out to him, we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but it's significant. If, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond. I think that the last thing he wants now is a cold war. Reporter: But there was one topic both sides seemed to agree on. A prisoner swap. Translator: We discussed there could be some ground for compromise. Both the ministry and the U.S. State department will work in this direction. We will follow through on this discussion. I am not going to walk away on this. Reporter: Two Americans, marine veterans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reid, who claim they've been taken political hostages in Russia, pleaded with president Biden for their release ahead of today's summit. I've spent my life in the service of my country and I would appreciate it if my country would help to bring me home. I implore you to bring this appalling case of hostage diplomacy to an end. Reporter: Wheelan arrested in 2018, allegedly for spying, found guilty of espionage, and sentenced to 16 years behind bars. I am from ABC news, do you want to say something? I don't think they want me to say anything. Reporter: A year later, Reid was arrested after a drunken night out, charged with assaulting two police officers and sentenced to nine years in prison. I have no idea what their motives would be, but this is clearly political. Reporter: But today the 29-year-old's parents are pleased Biden brought up their son with Putin. It's huge. And I just hope that it continues on, the momentum continues, then we have the last big, final step for him to come home. Reporter: One step forward in what may be a long road. It's a sentiment the American president seems to agree on. This is about how we move from here. We'll find out. Within the next six months to a year, whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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