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View from Moscow: Syria Move Aimed at Ending International Isolation

  • Danila Galperovich

President Barack Obama and Russian President President Vladimir Putin greet each other during a luncheon, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at United Nations headquarters.

President Barack Obama and Russian President President Vladimir Putin greet each other during a luncheon, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at United Nations headquarters.

Russia’s official media have been parsing Monday’s meeting between the American and Russian presidents in New York in detail, discussing everything from who initiated it (Moscow claims it was Washington, despite the fact that the White House denied this), to who clinked – or didn’t clink -glasses with whom at U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon’s reception, to whether the two leaders smiled at each other, why they “met for longer than scheduled," and so on.

The Russian media noted that while answering questions from the Kremlin pool of journalists after the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow does not want bad relations with Washington.

"The meeting was very constructive, businesslike – and, surprisingly, very frank," Putin said, making it clear that the Kremlin, in general, is ready to restore relations with the U.S. “in full.”

The Russian Web sneered at this wave of friendliness. Over the last year and a half, anti-Americanism has become almost the official ideology in Russia.

Still, the fact that the meeting took place at all was a far bigger deal to the pro-Kremlin media than what actually happened in the meeting. Washington and Moscow continue to hold opposing points of view regarding the fate of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russia's actions in Ukraine, with the U.S. president referring Monday to Russia’s "annexation" and "aggression."

In fact, the only thing that Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin agreed to is consultation between the Russian and American military concerning actions against ISIS to avoid confrontations with each other.

Dressed Up as a Breakthrough

Valery Khomyakov, general director of the National Strategy Council, a Moscow think tank, told VOA that while the meeting did not represent any kind of breakthrough, Moscow would like to present it that way.

“I believe that the meeting was specifically requested by Moscow, and Obama and his advisers were apparently inclined to honor that ... even though no one seriously expected anything substantive from these negotiations,” he said. “Such negotiations are, as a rule, prepared in advance, quite thoroughly, but they just sat for an hour and a half, talked, and nothing more.”

What happened at the end of the meeting was "interesting," Khomyakov added.

“Putin went out to the press, but Obama did not go with him," he said. "This means that he (Obama) does not attach much importance to what they talked about, while it was very important for Putin to show the world community that Russia’s isolation is nearly ended, and he is once again accepted in decent company."

Creation of Negative Stimuli

Similarly, independent military commentator Alexander Golts told VOA that Russia viewed the ramping up of its military presence in Syria above all as a way to “force Obama to meet with Putin.”

"Moscow deliberately created a situation in which Russian and American aircraft would be operating in the same airspace… and it was understood that the Americans would want to avoid any incidents in the air," Golts said. This issue could have been resolved in one telephone call between the defense chiefs of the two countries, he added, but Russia’s goal was to force direct talks between the two presidents.

“Russia considered it necessary to demonstrate that it is still, in spite of its de facto international isolation, an important member of the world community, and that communicating with it is impossible to avoid,” Golts said. “I call this ‘the creation of negative stimuli’: we can’t offer you anything positive, but we threaten to cause you problems, so let’s talk.”

Golts is convinced that the West understood what the Kremlin was up to, but did not find the strength to resist it. "When the relationship came down to the children's game ‘who will blink first.' The West blinked first,” he said.

“The West in general and U.S. in particular have not yet learned to talk to Putin in the kind of language that, on the one hand, is understandable to Putin, but on the other hand, does not allow Russian propaganda to win points."

According to Valery Khomyakov, Russia is unlikely to be able to conduct serious operations against ISIS: "There will be chest-thumping, which also has its meaning, but only for pictures, for domestic consumption.”

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