Vladimir Putin says Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny deserved prison sentence

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports from Geneva on the Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin summit which was held in a bid to repair relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said opposition leader Alexei Navalny got what he deserved when he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Mr Putin’s most ardent political foe was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin - an accusation that Russian officials reject.

In February, the Moscow court ordered the Russian opposition leader to prison for violating the terms of his probation from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.

Speaking on Wednesday after a summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva, Mr Putin said Mr Navalny received his due punishment for violating the terms of his probation, adding that he was aware that he was facing a prison sentence when he returned to Russia.

Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

"He deliberately moved to be arrested," Mr Putin said, sticking to his habit of not mentioning Mr Navalny by name.

Last week, a Moscow court outlawed the organisations founded by My Navalny by labelling them as extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for Parliament in September.

Meanwhile US President Joe Biden said he will continue to raise concerns about cases like Navalny's.

Mr Biden added that he would keep on airing concerns about issues of "fundamental human rights because that’s what we are."

He also stressed human rights issues in his meeting with Mr Putin - including the cases of two Americans who he said are "wrongfully imprisoned" in Russia.

Mr Biden said he is “not going to walk away” from the plight of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting in Geneva, Mr Biden said: “We discussed it.

“I’m going to follow through with that discussion.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a press conference immediately after his meeting with Mr Biden. Credit: AP

Mr Putin opened the door to possible discussions about a prisoner swap with the US for the release of the Americans and said those conversations would continue.

The US did not immediately comment on Mr Putin’s characterisation of the discussion.

Mr Putin, left, and Mr Biden shake hands as they arrive for the summit Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

Mr Putin said talks with Mr Biden were constructive and there was no hostility on either side.

"Our assessment of many issues differ, but in my view both sides demonstrated the desire to understand each other and looks for ways to get closer," Mr Putin said.

"The conversation was rather constructive," he added.

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and a top foreign aide each.

Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

During the “constructive” summit the pair agreed to return ambassadors to their posts, and made efforts to lower tensions and begin consultations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons.

Russia has long called for the start of strategic stability talks to potentially replace the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.

Mr Putin speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Mr Biden Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool/AP

Speaking after the meeting, the Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to return their ambassadors to their respective postings.

Both countries had pulled back their top envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations chilled over recent months.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Mr Biden called Mr Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Mr Putin said that the ambassadors were expected to return to their posts in the coming days.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, and US president Joe Biden shake hands as they arrive for the summit Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

Mr Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, though he continued to deny US allegations that the Russian government was responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.

Mr Biden and Mr Putin plunged into the face-to-face talks on Wednesday at the Villa La Grange – a lush lakeside Swiss mansion – in a highly anticipated summit which comes at a time when both leaders say relations between their countries are at a low point.

As the two leaders appeared briefly before media at the start of the meeting, Mr Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face-to-face”. Mr Putin said he hoped the talks would be “productive”.

Mr Biden and Mr Putin meet for the summit Credit: Denis Balibouse/Pool Photo via AP

For months, Mr Biden and Mr Putin have traded sharp rhetoric. Mr Biden has repeatedly called out Mr Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, for the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and for interference in American elections.

Mr Putin has reacted with denials — pointing to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol to argue that America has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government has not been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.

In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Summit venue Villa la Grange Credit: Markus Schreiber/AP

Even so, Mr Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

The White House opted against holding a joint news conference.