At today’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting, President Barack Obama was not very welcoming to his Russian counterpart’s public display of affection. In fact, some are already calling the awkward encounter an intentional public rejection.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping walked towards the conference room, with Obama on one side of him and Putin on the other, tension between the two presidents was apparent by their body language. Sources that witnessed the intense moment reported that Obama avoided making eye contact with Putin after the Russian President said, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” to President Obama.
After Obama quietly acknowledged Putin’s small talk, making it clear he was not interested in putting on a show for the press, Putin reached out to pat Obama on the back. Putin’s apparently desperate gesture to rekindle US-Russia relations got rejected as Obama headed in another direction with Putin’s hand awkwardly landing on President Obama’s arm.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed the brief encounters between Obama and Putin in a statement Tuesday.
“On three occasions throughout the day, for a total of approximately 15-20 minutes, President Obama had an opportunity to speak with President Putin,” Meehan said. “Their conversations covered Iran, Syria, and Ukraine.”
The two presidents will likely speak soon in Australia, at the G20 summit, later this week.
In recent memory, there have been so many lows in the Obama-Putin relationship, it’s natural to forget the Obama administration’s confidence in forging a new and promising partnership with Russia following the 2008 US presidential election.
Seldom has there been a better example of body language than Putin and Obama at the G8 meeting. pic.twitter.com/56EUpuYo5u
— David Venter (@DavidDavven) December 5, 2013
The initiation of the snowball effect dates back much further than Snowden’s asylum and the crisis over Ukraine. So where exactly did things go sour? When did Obama go from boasting of a ‘reset’ with Russia, and mocking critics as being stuck in the Cold War, to rejecting and taking low blows at President Putin?
It appears that Obama may have been a tad bit over confident in his capabilities to influence President Putin, a former KGB officer, from taking drastic measures to increase Russia’s ranks on the global stage. The awkward encounters at international meetings have become so typical in the headlines that most people wouldn’t be able to pinpoint when it all started. Here’s a refresher.
March 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presents Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a “reset button.” “I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President [Joe] Biden and I have been saying and that is: ‘We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together,'” she says. In a bit of foreshadowing, the Obama administration gets the Russian translation on the button wrong.
April 2009: Obama promises a “fresh start” with Russia, striking a deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to begin negotiations about how to shrink the nations’ nuclear arsenals. At the time, Putin was serving as Russia’s prime minister, but was seen as the man calling the shots.
April 2010: The U.S. and Russia sign a New START agreement, reducing the nuclear stockpiles of both nations by 1,500 warheads.
March 2012: A hot mic picks up Obama telling Medvedev, “After my election, I have more flexibility.” Medvedev responds by saying he’ll pass along Obama’s message to Putin, who will soon reclaim his post as Russian president. Critics pounce on the remark as proof that Obama is making shortsighted concessions to Putin.
December 2012: With congressional passage of the Magnitsky Act, Russian officials tied to the death of accountant Sergei Magnitsky — he died in Russian police custody, prompting humanitarian complaints — are banned from entering the U.S. and have their American assets frozen. Putin vows a proportional response.
December 2012: Not long after the Magnitsky spat, Putin pushes through a law that prohibits Americans from adopting Russian children. The Russians name the bill after a 2-year-old adopted Russian child who died after being left in a hot car by his adopted American father.
June 2013: The U.S. pressures Russia to condemn the use of chemical weapons by strongman Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war. Instead, the Russians cast doubt on western claims and blame the Syrian rebels for the violence in the war-torn nation.
August 2013: Defying U.S. demands, the Russian government grants asylum to Snowden, the NSA leaker, ratcheting up the animosity between Washington and Moscow. Putin rebuffs all requests to send the former government contractor to the U.S., stoking an embarrassing episode for the Obama administration.
August 2013: In response to the Snowden asylum, the White House abruptly cancels one-on-one talks scheduled for the two leaders in St. Petersburg.
December 2013: With protests in Kiev spiraling out of control, Putin announces that the Kremlin will purchase $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds. By propping up the regime of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Putin undermines U.S. calls for the Ukrainian leader to listen to the demands of his people. At Putin’s behest, Yanukovych had already rejected calls for the country to join the European Union, initiating the violent protests.
February 2014: After fleeing Ukraine, Yanukovych reappears in Russia and Putin begins military exercises on Ukraine’s border.
March 2014: With the Sochi Olympics completed, Putin officially signs off on the Russian annexation of Crimea, igniting dueling sanctions in Washington and Moscow.
March 2014: The U.S. and Western allies vote to force Russia out of the Group of Eight nations, a rebuke meant to punish Putin for the annexation of Crimea. Putin, however, steps up Russian incursions into Eastern Ukraine.
May 2014: Medvedev, now Russia’s prime minister, accuses the Obama administration of trying to start a “second Cold War.”
June 2014: Obama travels to Europe for a major presidential trip, framing the Ukrainian crisis as the centerpiece of his visit. “The days of empire and spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings. And the stroke of a pen can never legitimize the theft of a neighbor’s land,” he says in Poland.
June 2014: In a possible breakthrough, Putin tells Obama in a telephone conversation that he is committed to stopping the violence in Southeast Ukraine.
June 2014: The next day a ceasefire in Ukraine is violated when Russian separatists shoot down a Ukrainian military helicopter.
July 2014: Putin issues his strongest condemnation of U.S. sanctions to date. “Sanctions have a boomerang effect and without any doubt they will push U.S.-Russian relations into a dead end, and cause very serious damage,” he says.
July 2014: A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet is shot down in Ukraine. After initially refusing to assign responsibility for the attack, the White House says Putin’s regime is “culpable” for the deaths of nearly 300 passengers and crewmembers.
July 2014: Wanting to get in on the Putin bashing, Biden reveals in an interview that he once told the Russian president, “I don’t think you have a soul.”
July 2014: The Obama administration concludes that the Russian government violated a major arms control treaty by testing long-range missiles.
July 2014: For the first time, the U.S. and European nations unite behind major sanctions against the Russian energy, arms and finance industries. The Western powers say the downing of the passenger jet forced their hand.
Timeline provided on washingtonexaminer.com