Obama Meets Putin: The Likely Agenda

Putin and Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013. They will meet for the first time in two years on Monday in New York. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama meet for the first time in over two years on Monday in New York, and there will be much to discuss. Relations between Washington and Moscow are at their low point since the end of the Cold War due to Russia's support of the separatist rebels in Ukraine, and with increased speculation that Moscow is preparing military intervention in Syria to support brutal leader Bashar al-Assad, the meeting is bound to be a rare chance for the two leaders to try to iron out some of the differences on the issues that have caused Russia and the West's recent estrangement.


While Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has been reluctant to feed into speculation about the agenda for the meeting, when asked by press in Moscow on Thursday if there were any issues that will definitely be discussed, he said cheerfully: "Can you guess in three turns?"

The Kremlin and Russia's Foreign Ministry have had Syria at the top of their agenda for the last few months, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov making repeated pleas to Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as Syria's neighbours and the anti-Assad opposition in the country, to back the Russian government in an anti-ISIS coalition.

Putin himself met Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday with a proposal for setting up a coordinated response to the fighting in Syria, where Russia has reinforced its supply base in near the port of Tartus and sent additional military technology to Assad. On Friday, the Kremlin announced that prior to his trip to New York, Putin met with his security council to once again touch base on Syria.

While Putin will likely renew his government's push for an international coalition that includes Assad, Obama will be keen to bring up the Syrian conflict in a different context: to clarify Russia's recent military build-up in the Middle East country, Celeste Wallander of the White House's National Security Council told Reuters.

Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest told press on Thursday that the U.S. president will insist during the meeting that Putin's support for Assad is "a losing bet," and he played down the possibility of any major announcement following the meeting.

Ukraine's Donestk
Firefighters works on the top of a house, which according to locals was recently damaged by shelling, in Donetsk, Ukraine, August 12. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters


"When the president sits down with President Putin, the top item on his agenda will be Ukraine," Earnest told journalists at the White House press briefing on Thursday.

Russia is bound by the ceasefire deal that Putin signed in February with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, to withdraw troops from Ukraine by the end of the year.

While the region is enjoying a period of relative quiet, the ceasefire has been rocky from the start and the Ukrainian government maintains that Russia is still holding at least 10 Ukrainian nationals illegally.

Despite a reduction in fighting, rebels in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine are currently setting up their own local elections against Kiev's wishes, and the Luhansk rebels prompted United Nations concerns on Friday after ordering that it remove its agencies from the rebel-held city of Luhansk.

EU Refugee Crisis
Migrants wait for transport at a transit camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia, after entering the country by crossing the border with Greece, September 24. Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

EU Refugee Crisis

While the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa has affected the EU more than either Russia or the U.S., German Chancellor Angela Merkel has appealed to both sides to help solve the crisis.

Pope Francis during his U.S. visit also urged the U.S. Congress to assist in the refugees crisis, the BBC reports.

Earlier this month, Putin claimed he had seen the migrant and refugee crisis coming, accusing Europe of bringing it upon itself by "blindly" following the U.S. into intervention in the Middle East. The Russian president said he believed the crisis was "avoidable."

Lavrov told state news agency RIA Novosti in August that Russia would be prepared to assist Europe in dealing with the refugee flow, without specifying how, while his spokesperson told state news in September that the EU had asked for help from Russia with the issue on numerous occasions. She explained that Russia would give its "full support" to establishing a legal framework on dealing with the crisis, but did not commit to any other measures.

European leaders hope the two leaders will lend a hand in dealing with the crisis, which has already heightened tensions in Europe's poorer south-east region, where Croatia has closed its border with Serbia and Hungary is building a razor-wire fence to separate itself from its three neighbors: Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.