One of the most significant aspects of the Syrian crisis is the metamorphosis of Russian leader Vladimir Putin from international pariah to top of the bill on the world stage. Back in June at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to the meeting as the ‘G7 plus one’, reflecting the widening chasm between Putin and the rest of the G8 leaders. Barack Obama likened Putin to a “bored kid in the back of the classroom”. Similar tensions and acrimony were in evidence at the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
How dramatically things have changed! The five permanent Security Council members now appear to agree that the best course of action is to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision, a ground-breaking proposal emanating from Moscow, rather than Washington or London.
The Americans have only got themselves to blame. It was an own goal. Putin simply took advantage of Obama fumbling his lines and fleeing the stage. In politics, if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up where someone else leads you.
Ironically, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who presented Putin with the opportunity to shine. Responding to a question at a London news conference, Kerry made an off-the-cuff suggestion that Assad could “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” He then immediately added, “But he isn’t about to do it.”
Kerry’s uninentional diplomacy was a great opportunity for Putin to wrong-foot the West and he duly seized it with both hands. The American President, looking weak and rudderless, is now the one sulking at the back of the classroom after that awkward moment when the teacher called on him and he wasn’t paying attention.