Amid a new low in Moscow-Washington relations, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is set to visit the US after a hiatus of eight long years to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the UN. But all eyes will be on whether President Putin will meet US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UNGA – a crucial meeting that could pave the way for softening of tensions between the two countries which have been at loggerheads over Moscow’s Ukraine adventurism.
Mr Putin last visited the US in 2007 during his second term as president. His last address to the UNGA was in 2005, after which Russia was represented by either Dmitry Medvedev or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russia’s war with Georgia and its contested annexation of Crimea has severely impacted relations between Moscow and the US, leading to the imposition of sanctions by the US and the EU, which in turn has hit the Russian economy hard. Moscow has retaliated with counter sanctions on imports from the West, which has exacerbated already frayed ties between the two sides.
While the US and Russia have been on the opposite sides on most major international issues over the last few years, the two sides came together in the deal between Iran and the P5+1 members, which resulted in the historic agreement of Iran with P5+1 countries. Under the pact, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.
Against this backdrop, a bilateral meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Obama on the sidelines of the UNGA looks unlikely, but then diplomacy is the art of the possible. Russia’s foreign ministry has, however, said that President Putin would consider meeting Mr Obama on the sidelines of the UN summit, if the US signals its willingness to have talks. “We presume that our American colleagues are sending us signals that they want to continue to maintain contact,” he said. “And if there is such a proposal on their part, I think our president will view it constructively”, said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The meeting between the leaders of the two countries would be a positive move as the relations between the two sides is at its lowest ebb in recent years. The two sides need to engage in talks at a crucial juncture when the world is witnessing a rise in extremist organisations that threaten to destabilise regional peace and global security. Russia’s geographical proximity to the region where the Islamic State has a stronghold makes it even more important for Moscow to cooperate with the US to tackle the growing terrorism in the region.
There has been no official statement so far from the US side on whether President Obama intends to meet his Russian counterpart.
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