WASHINGTON - President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia will use their meeting Monday, the first since Putin returned to Russia’s top job, to claim leverage in a mutually dependent but volatile relationship.
Obama needs Russia to help, or at least not hurt, US foreign policy aims in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Putin needs the United States as a foil for his argument that Russia does not get its due as a great power.
Obama and Putin are set to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic gathering in Mexico that will otherwise focus largely on the European economic crisis.
The gathering is also a natural forum for sideline discussions of the urgent crisis in Syria as well as diplomatic efforts to head off a confrontation with Iran.
Russia is key to several US foreign policy goals. Chief among them are the international effort to deny Iran a nuclear weapon and a smooth shutdown of the Afghanistan war. Brutal attacks on antigovernment protesters in Syria and the threat of civil war there nation pose the most immediate crisis.
Russia’s membership in numerous world bodies and its veto power at the UN Security Council give it leverage beyond its economic or military power.
Obama holds far greater power and both leaders know it. But Putin can be a spoiler and irritant to the administration.
Things got off to a rocky start this spring, when Obama pointedly withheld a customary congratulatory phone call to Putin until days after his election. Putin appeared to snub Obama by skipping the smaller and weightier Group of Eight meeting that Obama hosted last month at Camp David.