A few quick meetings between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at a summit of the Asia-Pacific region held in China, Tuesday, underscored the tense relations between the United States and Russia. The two will cross twice this week, first in Beijing and the second at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, with little chance of avoiding any interaction on the international stage – and with the eyes of the world press and other leaders on tee shirt.
Obama and Putin never had a chemistry between them, and especially with the high voltages because of Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine, there was even less reason for amenities in their brief contacts at the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). When the dome was opened in the large convention center in a lake on the outskirts of Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping, walked with Obama and Putin, both serious and each side of a Chinese leader. “It’s beautiful, is not it?” leaked audio from English to Putin in the direction of Obama, referring to the ornate conference room. Obama responded with a cold “yes”, according to journalists who witnessed the scene.
The three leaders stood before the Xi seat at the table. Putin stepped forward and patted the shoulder of Obama, who barely responded. They then sat on the left and right of Xi. Later, Obama and Putin were caught in a quick conversation, accompanied by a translator, as they entered the lobby for “cheap clothes” of the convention.
“On three occasions throughout the day, for a total of approximately 15 to 20 minutes, President Obama had the opportunity to speak with President Putin,” said a spokesman for the White House, Bernadette Meehan. “The talks covered Iran, Syria and Ukraine.” The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the conversations took place, but gave no details. The two leaders seem to have much to discuss, but little chance of finding a common thought about the issues. Besides Ukraine, they differ on Russia’s support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Communicating mainly by phone during the last year, his contacts were described as tense, as relations between Washington and Moscow reached the worst level since the Cold War. Obama has insisted that Russia stop supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, as Putin has criticized sanctions imposed by the US and European Union on Moscow, saying they are counterproductive.