It’s the first meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin since Obama canceled plans for a bilateral meeting at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Putin has been defiant in several areas of foreign policy, including giving temporary refuge to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden and blocking United Nations action against the Assad regime in Syria. And while the main topic on the agenda for this weekend’s meeting is economic growth and fighting tax evasion by major corporations, that’s not going to stop anyone from wondering about the role the more contentious issues might play in the annual summit.
So, of course, we are going to overanalyze this first interaction of the two leaders.
Obama heads over to Putin after getting out of the special, presidential car, aptly named “The Beast.” The other leaders strolled up in regular Mercedes, according to reports. This shows a sense of poise, confidence, and strength — strong attributes you want to show a potential rival. Putin is an old pro at this. He’s tested his language skills with 30 other leaders thus far. The two men extend hands for what’s likely to be a firm shake. Neither man wants to seem hesitant, nor break eye contact. For now, the men are equals. The real test comes next.
The two leaders are now sharing some small talk. We do know that Putin knows a limited amount of English. Obama could be commenting on the seemingly lovely weather in the Russian city. “I thought the Russian winter might have started already,” Obama could have commented. The Russian premier looks polite, but not over enthusiastic about the comment. After all, he does have his own domestic appearance to hold up.
Next, the Russian president tries to return fire with his own snide comment. Maybe he’ll tell a joke. “Why did the chicken cross the road? To avoid extradition to the United States.” Obama gives it a hearty laugh, but will likely scoff at the memory of this moment. “I didn’t know Russians had a sense of humor,” Obama might have retorted.
Well that was awkward — an interaction that lasted only 15 seconds. Putin maintains his position for the next arrival of a world leader. All he knows is that this is probably not the last interaction between the two leaders this week. They might bump into each other at the restroom, or the two men might share some vodka later that night and have a major breakthrough on foreign relations. For now, however, it’s back to the same old, same old. As Obama walks away, Putin thinks to himself, “Reset, my ass,” and waits for the next leader to arrive.
All photos by the Associated Press