A year ago, Geneva was largely on its diplomatic luck: the Trump administration had an “America First” policy that avoided the internationalism that the Swiss city embodies and lambasted some of its main institutions like the World Organization of Health, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Council. Commercial organization.

This is all a thing of the past.

The lakeside city, known as a Cold War crossroads and a hub of Swiss discretion, neutrality and humanitarianism, is set to return to world stage as US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin come to town for a summit on Wednesday.

This will be the third time that Geneva has hosted talks between the leaders of the United States and Russia.

The first was a multilateral meeting involving US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1955.

The second came 30 years later, when President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev, an important icebreaker who some say paved the way for the end of the Soviet Union.

Both sides have made progress in defusing tensions – and hopes are looming, albeit modestly, compared to the ongoing cooling between the United States and Russia on issues like Ukraine, human rights and cyber attacks.

Putin lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” and sought to rebuild Russia’s global weight and prestige during Soviet times.

He has often criticized Gorbachev’s legacy, claiming that the United States and its Western allies deceived the Soviet Union into pledging not to expand NATO eastward after German reunification – then by breaking the promise.

The Geneva of today is no longer the lair of espionage and Cold War intrigue that it once was.

While Switzerland has in many ways cleaned up its reputation as a hub for the rich and powerful to save funds and avoid taxes, experts say many autocrats are still drawn to the discretion and stability of the Swiss bank. .

Nevertheless, the city has laboriously built a reputation for diplomacy, humanitarianism and multilateralism.

The International Red Cross was founded there in 1863 to help victims of conflicts. US President Woodrow Wilson helped set up the League of Nations – the UN predecessor that the US Congress shied away from – to foster dialogue. The Geneva Conventions set out rules for humanitarian conduct in time of war.

More recently, Geneva has hosted the European headquarters of the United Nations, its human rights office and dozens of UN-affiliated organizations, multilateral institutions and humanitarian and advocacy groups – often with the support of United States.

Trump has cast a shadow during his tenure as president. He pulled the United States out of the UN-backed Human Rights Council. He also criticized the WTO and largely stripped it of its ability to settle trade disputes.

Just over a year ago, Trump suspended US funding for the WHO and threatened to pull the US out over the health agency’s alleged missteps and prostration to China in the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

Biden kept the United States and restored American funding.

“(The) Biden administration is not as one-sided as the Trump administration and that is a very good thing” for Geneva organizations and for “world governance,” said Nicolas Levrat, director of the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva.

Thomas Greminger, former secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which counts both Russia and the United States as participating states, said the choice of Geneva for the summit was “highly symbolic” and hoped it would signal an important role in multilateralism.

For Putin and Biden, amid tensions between their two countries, Greminger suggested that the summit provides a neutral venue that could help reduce polarization.

“Safe spaces are becoming very important again, that is, places where people who do not share the same ideas can meet, discuss and try to build bridges,” said Greminger, now director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. Geneva, he said of its diplomatic and security infrastructure, “has a track record for that.”

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