From hacking to Havana Syndrome: 5 top issues facing the U.S.-Russia relationship

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WASHINGTON – As U.S.-Russia relations have hit an agreed-upon low point, President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

The meeting in Geneva is the first time an American leader has met with Putin since 2018, when former President Donald Trump met with the autocrat in Helsinki. They are expected to discuss a number of issues, from the hacking of U.S. private businesses to how Russia is treating political opposition.

Although Biden has met with several world leaders, many have been strong U.S. allies. The president's meeting with Putin will be among his first that could be contentious.

Biden said Monday that he spoke with his foreign counterparts about Russia's aggressive acts that posed a threat to security, particularly on recent malicious cyberattacks. He said he would make clear where "the red lines are" in his upcoming meeting with Putin.

"I'm not looking for conflict with Russia, but we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities," Biden said.

The summit: President Biden set for Geneva showdown with Vladimir Putin after European tour of allies

Here are the top issues facing U.S.-Russia relationship:

A shared dislike of one another

Biden has shared an unfavorable view of Putin, who has been critical of Biden.

In March, Biden during an interview on ABC News agreed with a description that Putin is a “killer.” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Biden: “So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?”

“I do,” Biden responded.

He also pledged to make Russia — and Putin — pay for alleged interference into the 2020 presidential election. Following Biden's ABC News interview, Putin responded to Biden's comments on Russian TV by saying: “he who said it, did it," according to Reuters.

Earlier this year, a declassified U.S. intelligence report showed that Russia and its proxies conducted an operation aimed at "denigrating" Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, which the intelligence community concluded that Putin authorized.

Putin during an interview with NBC News that was aired in full Monday called Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, an "extraordinary" and "talented" individual. The Russian president went on to say that Biden is "radically different from Trump."

"President Biden is a career man," Putin said. "He has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics."

Cyberattacks on infrastructure

Notable cyberattacks with alleged Russian ties are expected to come up.

In May, Biden expelled Russian diplomats and announced sanctions on Russia with regard to the 2020 hacking of SolarWinds, which targeted multiple U.S. federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, State and Energy.

More: Biden sees 'potential' progress in Putin's openness to extraditing cyber criminals

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the SolarWinds hack is the work of SVR, Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. Hackers went undetected for nine months as they targeted U.S. government departments, about 100 private companies and several organizations in the United Kingdom. Roughly 18,000 customers had installed malicious software from the attack.

DarkSide, a cybercrime network believed to be based in Russia is the main culprit behind a ransomware attack that shutdown Colonial Pipeline in early May.

Silenced political opposition

Biden has been critical of Putin’s crackdown on Russia's political opposition.

In February, Alexei Navalny, an activist and one of Putin's fiercest critics, was imprisoned in Russia for breaking parole conditions. Navalny was returning from Germany in January, where he was receiving treatment for poisoning with a nerve agent.

Who is Alexei Navalny?: Putin's biggest political rival has been poisoned and jailed

More: Alexei Navalny's allies seek to 'increase the turbulence' for Putin in effort to oust him

Putin in a recent interview with NBC News could not guarantee that Navalny would leave prison alive and denied ordering an assassination attempt on the anti-corruption crusader.

"Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president," Putin said when asked if he could guarantee Navalny would leave prison alive.

Belarus and Ukraine

Putin has pledged financial and military support to Belarus, even as President Alexander Lukashenko faces international outrage for human rights transgressions.

Lukashenko has used violence to suppress largely peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations and is suspected of ordering the diversion of a commercial airline flight to facilitate the arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a dissident-journalist. Lukashenko has faced sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union.

In addition, Biden and Putin will likely discuss Russia’s ongoing territorial aggressions with Ukraine.

Last week during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden affirmed the United States’ “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression in Donbas and Crimea,” according to a readout of the call.

Havana Syndrome

Russia is suspected to be behind "Havana Syndrome," which has afflicted a group of U.S. diplomats and government employees, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.

"Havana Syndrome" is a mysterious and hard-to-treat neurological condition whose symptoms include headaches, tinnitus and balance issues. Information disclosed in May revealed that two White House officials were struck by the mysterious illness late last year.

Dozens of other officials across the globe have been stricken by the illness, with cases having been suspected in Cuba, China, Europe and in the United States.

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 5 top issues facing U.S and Russia, from hacking to Havana Syndrome