Russian and American presidents met Monday at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering of world leaders, their first meeting in nearly a year. Vladimir Putin praised the results of 90-minute conversation in comments reflecting his strong desire to repair ties with the U.S. devastated by the Ukrainian crisis.
It remains unclear, however, if the meeting could help normalize relations as Moscow and Washington continue to sharply disagree on Syria and Ukraine. Putin has forced Barack Obama to the table by deploying Russian troops and weapons to Syria and holding out a prospect of Moscow’s military action against the Islamic State.
Faced with a sudden Russian military move, the Pentagon already has launched talks with the Russians on measures to prevent any possible clashes between the U.S. and Russian forces in Syria. Putin apparently hopes to persuade the United States to acknowledge the Russian efforts in Syria as part of the global fight against the IS _ the recognition he believes could help gradually repair the broken ties with the U.S. and its Western allies.
Before their meeting, both leaders spoke at the U.N. General Assembly, offering competing visions of the problems faced by the world. Obama focused his speech on the need to protect democratic values, saying that erosion of democratic principles and human rights threaten the world order. He denounced Russia’s action in Ukraine and said that Western sanctions introduced in response to Moscow’s action have precipitated Russia’s capital flight and contributed to its economic downturn.
Turning to Syria, Obama reaffirmed that President Bashar Assad’s brutal repression was the root of the conflict, adding that there could be no end to it as long as the Syrian leader remains in place. “We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo,” he said.
While Obama was speaking, Putin was still on his way from the airport. The Russian leader apparently didn’t want to hear a lecture about democracy and preferred to stay out. Putin spoke shortly after. Without naming the U.S.,he accused Washington of trying to enforce its will on others and mulling a possible reform of the U.N., which stands in the way of the perceived U.S. domination. “After the end of the Cold War, the single center of domination has emerged in the world. Those who have found themselves on top of that pyramid were tempted to think that since they are so strong and singular, they know what to do better than others and it’s unnecessary to pay any attention to the U.N.,” Putin said.
He repeated his strong criticism of the United States for supporting the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, saying that the collapse of states and the following chaos filled the ranks of the militants and led to the emergence of the Islamic State. “Instead of reforms, state institutions and the entire way of living have been unceremoniously destroyed through aggressive foreign meddling,” he said. “I would like to ask those who created that situation: Do you at least understand what you have done?
Putin said the West has made a grave mistake by failing to engage the Syrian government forces in the fight against the Islamic State, and offered to create a new grand coalition that would include all those ready to fight terror. He likened such coalition to an alliance that fought the Nazis during World War II.
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