This Is What Diplomacy Has Come To: Obama and Putin Bump Into Each Other at Lunch

And a few words signal a big news moment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama smile for the cameras during an official welcome of G20 leaders in St. Petersburg in September.
National Journal
Marina Koren
June 6, 2014, 7:53 a.m.

To un­der­stand the cur­rent state of af­fairs between Wash­ing­ton and Mo­scow, take a gander at this tweet:

Dip­lo­mat­ic ties between Pres­id­ent Obama and Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin are so strained, a brief ex­change has be­come break­ing news.

Deputy Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes said the two pres­id­ents spoke to each oth­er for about 15 minutes dur­ing a lead­ers lunch on Fri­day at the G-7 sum­mit in Brus­sels. Ac­cord­ing to Rhodes, Obama “un­der­scored that the suc­cess­ful Ukra­ni­an elec­tion provides an op­por­tun­ity” for Putin “that should be taken.” If it is taken, Obama told Putin, “there could be open­ings to re­duce ten­sions.”

Now we have proof, from the French pres­id­ency’s Vine ac­count, of all places:

{{third­PartyEmbed type:vine id:MD5Lu5LK­vrT}}

The day be­fore, Obama told re­port­ers that he had no doubt he would see Putin, with whom he has “al­ways had a busi­ness­like re­la­tion­ship,” dur­ing this week’s events. “Keep in mind that al­though we haven’t had form­al meet­ings, I’ve spoken to him by phone re­peatedly from the out­set of the protests,” he said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence. “And my mes­sage has been very con­sist­ent — and that is that Rus­sia has a le­git­im­ate in­terest in what hap­pens in Ukraine, giv­en that it’s on its bor­der and giv­en its his­tor­ic­al ties. But ul­ti­mately, it is up to the people of Ukraine to make their own de­cisions.”

Obama said that if Rus­sia de­cides not to pur­sue dip­lo­mat­ic en­gage­ment with Petro Poroshen­ko, Ukraine’s newly elec­ted pres­id­ent, then the U.S. has “no choice but to re­spond.”

“But I think we have to see what he does and not what he says,” the pres­id­ent ad­ded. Un­til then, much of the back-and-forth between the na­tions will re­main “on the mar­gins” — and break­ing news.

Face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions between the two world lead­ers have al­ways been closely watched, however. Re­call how the hand­shake the pair shared last Septem­ber, when they met dur­ing the G-20 sum­mit in St. Peters­burg, was dis­sec­ted for hints of mean­ing (and clues of awk­ward­ness).

This post has been up­dated with more de­tails of the meet­ing.

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