Less than three months after Vladimir Putin was cast as a pariah over Syria at the last big meeting of world leaders, the Russian president has glimpsed a chance to turn the tables on Barack Obama.
The U.S. president’s dilemma over a military response to an alleged poison gas attack in Syria means Obama is the one who is under more pressure going into a G-20 summit in St Petersburg on Thursday and Friday.
Obama stepped back from the brink on Saturday, delaying any imminent strike to seek approval from the U.S. Congress.
Yet at a G=8 summit in Northern Ireland in June, Putin was isolated over his backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and scowled his way through talks with Obama, who later likened him to a “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
Putin has ignored the jibe and stood his ground over Assad, dismissing Obama’s allegations that Syrian government forces carried out a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.
Buoyed by growing pressure on the U.S., French and British leaders over Syria, the former KGB spy has also now hit back in comments referring ironically to Obama as a Nobel Peace laureate and portraying U.S. global policy as a failure.
“We need to remember what’s happened in the last decade, the number of times the United States has initiated armed conflicts in various parts of the world. Has it solved a single problem?” Putin asked reporters on Saturday in the city of Vladivostok.
“Afghanistan, as I said, Iraq . . . After all, there is no peace there, no democracy, which our partners allegedly sought,” he said during a tour of Russia’s far east.
Denying as “utter nonsense” the idea that Assad’s forces would use chemical weapons when they were winning the civil war, Putin looked steely and confident.
After months of pressure to abandon Assad, he is sending a message to the West that he is ready to do battle over Syria in St Petersburg and sees an opportunity to portray the United States as the bad boy on the block.
“Of course the G20 is not a formal legal authority. It’s not a substitute for the U.N. Security Council, it can’t take decisions on the use of force. But it’s a good platform to discuss the problem. Why not take advantage of this?” he said.