Obama, Putin set to meet in Mexico
WASHINGTON PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will use their meeting on Monday, the first since Putin returned to Russia’s top job, to claim leverage in a mutually dependent but volatile relationship.
Obama needs Russia to help, or at least not hurt, US foreign policy aims in the Mideast and Afghanistan.
Putin needs the United States as a foil for his argument that Russia doesn’t get its due as a great power.
Obama and Putin are set to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic gathering in Mexico that will otherwise focus largely on the European economic crisis.
Greece’s fate as part of the eurozone may be sealed as Obama and other world leaders meet, and the gathering is a natural forum for sideline discussions of the urgent crisis in Syria as well as diplomatic efforts to head off a confrontation with Iran.
Russia is a linchpin in several US foreign policy goals.
Chief among them are the international effort to deny Iran a nuclear weapon and a smooth shutdown of the Afghanistan war. Brutal attacks on anti-government protesters in Syria and the threat of civil war in the Mideast nation pose the most immediate crisis. In the longer term, Obama wants Russia’s continued cooperation in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Russia’s membership in numerous world bodies and its veto power at the UN Security Council give it leverage beyond its economic or military power.
Obama holds far greater power and both leaders know it. But Putin can be a spoiler and irritant to the administration.
Things got off to a rocky start this spring, when Obama pointedly withheld a customary congratulatory phone call to Putin until days after his election. Putin appeared to snub Obama by skipping the smaller and weightier Group of Eight meeting that Obama hosted last month.
“Putin is in a petulant sort of mood,” said Russia scholar Mark N Katz of George Mason University. “He’s got all these grievances about American foreign policy and he’s looking for us to satisfy him, and I don’t think we’re going to do that. No amount of bonhomie or talking nicely is going to fix that.” Obama made a special project of Russia in his first term and arguably needs Moscow’s help even more if he wins a second one. He is trying to avoid a distracting public spat with Russia during this election year, as suggested by an overheard remark to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March. Obama told Medvedev he would have more flexibility to answer Russian complaints about a US-built missile defence shield in Europe after the November election.
For all Obama’s talk of resetting the relationship with Russia, it remains a wary standoff. That’s apparently just the way Putin prefers it.
Putin’s campaign included some of the strongest anti- American rhetoric from Moscow in a decade and he openly accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of inciting protests against him. The Obama administration mostly tried to shrug it off, but Putin’s return to the presidency makes it more likely that any help Russia provides in Syria, Iran or other matters will come at a cost.
Putin’s own return to the presidency was far more certain than Obama’s re-election chances. Despite their differences, Putin probably would prefer a second Obama term to a Mitt Romney presidency, Katz said, not least because the Republican challenger has called Russia the chief strategic enemy of the United States.