As Russia ramps up its military involvement in Syria’s civil war and defies international agreements in Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin will meet with US president Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, which starts next week on Sept. 28.
The news was announced by the Kremlin and confirmed by the White House, which tells Quartz that the meeting was requested by Putin. A statement from the Obama administration reads:
Given the situations in Ukraine and Syria, despite our profound differences with Moscow, the President believes that it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians. In particular, our European partners have underscored the importance of a unified message about the necessity of fully implementing the Minsk agreements. President Obama will take advantage of this meeting to discuss Ukraine, and he will be focused on ensuring Moscow lives up to the Minsk commitments. This will be the core message of this bilateral engagement.
Earlier this week, NATO’s top official chided Russia for failing to respect the Minsk agreements, which were designed to de-escalate the conflict ahead of a political settlement. But European and Ukrainian defense officials say that the ceasefire is not being respected, and that Russia maintains heavy weapons in Ukraine and is denying access to independent monitors.
Meanwhile, Russia has been pouring aircraft and soldiers into Syria to fight alongside the embattled regime of president Bashar al-Assad. The build-up has alarmed European leaders, who see it as a potentially decisive effort to preserve Assad’s regime from the forces arrayed against it, from Western-backed rebel groups to ISIL and other Islamist militias. The US has downplayed Russia’s actions, though some wonder if the Obama administration, which has limited its military intervention in the crisis, will have less leverage to force Assad’s ouster.
But that analysis may overestimate Russia’s strength on the world stage in a time of low oil prices. It doesn’t seem like Russia has the capability to change the stalemate on the ground in Ukraine, and by those lights, the escalation in Syria might be seen as a last-ditch attempt to gain prestige ahead of a climb-down.