Obama-Putin meet: Focus on Ukraine, Syria, Islamic State

NEW YORK: With the relations between United States and Russia at an all-time low, Ukraine and Syria crises have been the two major global issues that the two sides have had contrasting views on. Meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA, the leaders of the two countries discussed Ukraine, Syria and the rise of Islamic State.

Sharing a cold handshake ahead of their meet US President Barack Obama and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a closed door meeting towards the end of the day on September 28. This was their first bilateral talk in nearly a year. The two leaders were in New York to attend the 70th anniversary of the UN General Assembly session. Putin called the meeting ‘very constructive’ and ‘frank’. He said he and Mr Obama discussed the fight against the Islamic State group, the coalition against which is led by the US but includes no participation from Russia.

Russia has been increasing its troop presence in Syria of late, which has raised eyebrows in Washington DC. While Russia hasn’t made its intentions clear publicly, but after the meeting, US seems to have got some kind of clarity on Russia’s objectives in Syria on defeating the Islamic State group and its continued support to the Assad regime.

At the meeting, which went on for nearly 90 minutes between the leaders of the two countries, the two sides decided to reduce conflict in the region by preventing unintended military engagement in Syria. The US isn’t unilaterally opposed to Russian military action in Syria and if Mr Putin uses his military solely to fight the Islamic State group, the US could welcome that action. However, Mr Obama made it clear that US would oppose any Russian military support to the Assad regime. Russia, on its part stuck to its stand of supporting the Assad regime and said it was totally a legitimate government.

Mr Obama and Mr Putin had rebuked each other at the UN session where Mr Obama supported the power of diplomacy in solving international disputes citing examples of Iran and Cuba, while condemning Russia’s aggressive actions in neighbouring Ukraine. “We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and integrity of other nations are violated,” Mr Obama said. “If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation,” he added. Mr Putin blamed Mr Obama for the Middle East’s growing list of problems, including the war in Syria. He alleged that the US action in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed the Islamic State group to thrive in the region and he accused the US of not working to defeat the terrorist organisation.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea had not gone down well with most countries in the world and the UN had termed it illegal. This led to the US and EU imposing sanctions on Russia, which worsened an already deteriorating Russian economy. The crisis in Eastern Europe had put the two countries at opposing ends and the cold vibes shared by the two leaders at the meet was testimony to the fact that the relations between the two countries have a long way to go before they can even project an image of any rapprochement.

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