Syria, Snowden add up to an awkward meeting for Obama and Putin

Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin
President Barack Obama gave the floor to Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak after a meeting in 2012.

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will come face to face at the G20 economic summit starting today in St. Petersburg, Russia. Syria is not on the agenda, but the conflict between the United States and Russia over whether and how other countries should intervene in Syria's civil war will capture at least some of the spotlight.

Russia remains adamantly opposed to U.S. plans to attack Syria in response to the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons. President Putin has emphasized that the only legal foreign intervention is with approval from the U.N. Security Council — but Russia, as a permanent member of the council, would be certain to veto any such action.

The Syria dispute merely adds to tensions over other issues — notably Russia's decision to grant at least temporary sanctuary to Edward Snowden, the fugitive NSA leaker.

Some observers note that the relationship between Obama and Putin seems pointedly antagonistic, even personally so. Obama recently characterized Putin as having "that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom." For his part, Putin has mocked Obama's status as a Nobel laureate, reminding his listeners "how many times the United States has been the initiator of armed conflict in different regions of the world ... Did this resolve even one problem?"

Organizers of the G20 summit have been rearranging the seating chart to move Putin and Obama farther apart.

The Daily Circuit takes a look at looks at U.S.-Russian relations and the prospects for cooperation between the two countries in the future.


• Putin warns against Syrian intervention

Beneath The Surface Of U.S.-Russian Relations
An interview with Steven Pifer, former ambassador to Ukraine. (NPR)

Analysis: Putin sees chance to turn tables on Obama at G20
Putin still risks facing criticism over a law banning "gay propaganda" at the summit, and is accused abroad of clamping down on the opposition to reassert his authority following the biggest protests since he was first elected president in 2000. But the tension over possible military strikes on Syria has ensured Obama has been the focus of world attention, rather than Putin, in the run-up to the G20 — which will consider issues such as economic growth, unemployment and financial regulation. (Reuters)