Opinion: Obama and Putin’s UN meeting another misstep

Matt Poe

The most hostile relationship today does not come from the tabloids or your favorite reality television show. Rather, it features a pair of presidents and countries who cannot play nice with one another when the world urgently needs them to do so.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met this past Monday at the United Nations to discuss a number of issues, primarily the crises engulfing Syria and Ukraine, with neither side reaching an agreement on how to combat the issues. In fact, the two sides couldn’t even agree on the focus of their meeting.

During his portion of the address, President Obama urgently spoke about the need to end the conflict in Syria, stating that he is “open to working with Russia and Iran to bring Syria’s civil war to an end.” Obama also called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose troops have combated rebels and produced a war-torn state, allowing groups such as ISIS to rise to prominence.  

“We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo,” Obama said.

Putin, however, was quick to defend Assad and urged the UN to stick with the Syrian leader, whose “military is the only viable option for defeating the Islamic State.”

“We believe it’s a huge mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities, with the government forces, those who are bravely fighting terror face-to-face,” Putin said.

Obama proceeded to direct his address to the unrest in Ukraine and Putin’s actions in attempting to seize control of the Crimea, the large peninsula that connects Ukraine and Russia. The United States has claimed Russia violated international law in its efforts to seize the area in 2014.

This most recent meeting marks another misstep between the two countries and their respective head of states. Although Russia and the United States remain divided on many foreign issues, some optimism remained that the two nations could reach an agreement on ending a civil war that has produced more than 200,000 casualties and 11 million refugees since it began in 2011.

The United States had hopes during this meeting that Russia would be held accountable, even with prior sanctions administered, for its involvement in seizing the Crimea, but Putin and his advisories side-stepped this discussion.

The relationship between the United States and Russia is not the friendliest, but it remains a vital one in balancing world order, and both countries need to find common ground far more than they might admit.

It’s fascinating (and tragic) that after almost two years of not meeting face-to-face, the two leaders and their respective countries cannot find compromise on two of the largest human rights crises of the last decade.

But when the two sides cannot even agree on the agenda, it should come as no surprise that little positive action resulted from the meeting. As evident at the meeting, until minor issues between the respective countries are put aside, major issues will remain unresolved.  

Contact Matt Poe at [email protected].