Body-language expert says Putin’s lack of eye contact and tapping fingers showed impatience, while Biden was more open

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin sitting next to each other in Geneva.
President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin met for a summit at Villa la Grange in Geneva on Wednesday. Kevin LaMarque/Reuters
  • A communications expert watched Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden for clues about how their summit went.
  • She told the BBC that the power balance seemed equal, though Biden seemed more eager to engage.
  • Putin’s tapping fingers and leaning-back pose gave the sense he wanted the summit to end, she said.
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A body-language expert has analyzed President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to get a sense of their attitudes toward their meeting in Geneva.

The communications coach Mary Civiello told the BBC that while Wednesday’s meeting itself was closed to the public, the leaders’ interactions before they got to talking “actually said a lot.”

Civiello suggested that there was no clear power imbalance between the men but that Putin seemed more impatient with proceedings than Biden.

She said their first handshake of the summit seemed roughly equal in terms of the power dynamic, with Biden the first to reach over but Putin making the approach on foot.

Civiello also took notice of the moment when they sat down before the meeting in front of cameras.

Most telling was a lack of eye contact between the two, she said, going on to comment on their sitting postures.

Putin adopted a familiar laid-back pose in his chair, legs apart, while Biden sat up and at times turned more toward the Russian leader – “the kind of posture that would open oneself to conversing,” she said.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden facing each other at the doorway to the building where they are to meet
Putin and Biden in Geneva. Kevin LaMarque/Reuters

“Putin’s body language tells you, ‘whatever,'” she added.

She also noted Putin’s hands tapping the side of the chair, “‘just like, ‘When is this going to be over?'”

Looking back at Putin’s interactions with other US leaders, such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, Civiello said the Russian leader was pretty consistent.

“It kind of sends a message: ‘Don’t expect this meeting to change anything much,'” she said.

Meanwhile, Civiello said Biden’s pose matched what he had said about his policy position on the meeting – not exactly eager, but open to engagement.