The Awkward, Friendly, 15-Second Meeting Between Obama and Putin

Fan fiction from the first meeting between the two leaders at the G-20 summit.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 5, 2013, 6:46 a.m.

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

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