No future intelligence work for G20 leaders, jokes Putin

US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting in Los Cabos on June 18, 2012 on the sidelines of the G20 summit (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
Amid the reportedly chilly political weather in Mexico, which played host to the Group of 20 summit, Putin joked with reporters about his past experience as an intelligence officer.

­During the closing press conference, a reporter put the Russian leader in a rather uncomfortable position when she risked the question: “Who (among the G20 leaders) would you take with you on a reconnaissance mission?” In Russian, the question could be understood to mean, “Who do you trust among this company?”

“No one,” Putin responded to laughter.

Putin, an ex-intelligence officer, smoothed over his brusque response, saying, “I have not been working in intelligence services for many years already. I have turned this page in my life.”

The Russian leader had no qualms, however, about meeting with the G20 leaders in St. Petersburg next year.

“I have different objectives now and I will go with them (other G20 presidents) to the next G20 summit in St. Petersburg in 2013,” he said with a smile.

The previous day, Putin met with US President Barack Obama for over two hours on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Observers described the press conference following the talks as “tense,” pointing to the body language and strained facial expressions of the two leaders. While both men did betray a certain level of intensity, this could be explained by the many tough issues on their plate, including Washington’s determination to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, and the deteriorating situation in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is struggling to hold onto power in the face of a relentless militant challenge by the political opposition.

In light of other recent events, it is not surprising that the media paid special attention to how Putin and Obama interacted. There was much speculation in May following Putin’s so-called ‘snub’ of the G8 Summit, which was held at Camp David. Putin, who politely excused himself in order to approve his new government, sent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place. 

Later, Obama said he would not be able to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vladivostok in September, which is scheduled soon after the Democratic convention. The Kremlin expressed its understanding, yet the rollercoaster ride in relations continued.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created a major diplomatic row when she said Russia was preparing to send attack helicopters to Syria, which would “dramatically escalate" the conflict. The State Department later corrected the statement, saying Moscow was not sending new helicopters but rather “old, refurbished ones” as specified under a contractual agreement.

Below the surface of joint statements and joking, however, there is real concern as to how the Syrian crisis will play out in the coming days. Speculation is rife that Russia is planning to send ships to Tartus, where the Russian Navy has a technical facility and 50 naval personnel. Meanwhile, Russia, which is anxious to avoid another military clash in the explosive region, continues to push for a diplomatic solution to the 15-month-old crisis.

While it is too early to declare an end to the Russia-US reset, the bilateral relationship has certainly witnessed less challenging times.

Robert Bridge, RT