Biden and Putin suffer awkward silence in climate summit technical glitch
Even superpowers have trouble organising a Zoom meeting.
A technical glitch at the climate summit meant Joe Biden was left hanging for nearly 90 seconds by his political nemesis Vladimir Putin.
“I now turn the floor to the President of the Russian Federation,” announced Tony Blinken, the US secretary of state. But no reply came.
Instead, Mr Putin loomed silently on a giant screen above Mr Biden, Mr Binken and John Kerry, the US climate tsar.
The American leaders, seated at a large table, looked at each other and fiddled with their masks.
On the screen Mr Putin looked bored, twiddling his forefinger and thumb.
Then, adopting a puzzled expression, he conferred with an off-screen aide.
The microphone at the Kremlin appeared to be muted.
After nearly a full minute of awkward silence Mr Blinken, looking ever so slightly flustered, tried again. “Mr President?” he said. Still no reply.
Mr Biden looked questioningly at Mr Blinken, who suggested the Russian leader may still be watching the preceding address by Emmanuel Macron.
“He may be getting Macron … because that was a tape of Macron…” said Mr Blinken.
After more than 30 seconds of further awkwardness, Mr Putin eventually began speaking.
The Russian leader is well known for keeping others waiting ahead of physical meetings.
He was once 14 minutes late to meet the Queen, and 50 minutes tardy for the Pope.
Kremlinologists immediately speculated that the most recent incident might be an attempt by Mr Putin to unsettle Mr Biden.
However, rather than an attempted power play, the bizarre encounter did appear to be simply the curse of Zoom.
Mr Macron’s address, immediately before Mr Putin, had been pre-recorded and did not play properly in Washington.
It was repeated again in full as soon as Mr Putin finished speaking.
That was not the only technical malfunction during the summit.
Kamala Harris’s address, which opened proceedings, was accompanied by a loud echo.
The echo problem continued as Mr Biden took the microphone, but was hurriedly fixed during his speech.
“We had some technical difficulties,” Mr Blinken later admitted.
As with many virtual meetings over the last year it was something of a mess.