Wednesday, June 19

Vladimir Putin Dominates G-8 Summit

With the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland concluded, Vladimir Putin -- one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's few remaining allies, and the main obstacle to achieving international consensus on a way out of the Syrian civil war -- appeared before the media Tuesday to take some questions. A reporter asked the Russian president whether he felt "lonely" among other world leaders at the gathering.

"No, that's absolutely not true," Putin said. "It was a general discussion, someone was agreeing and others were arguing. But Russia was never left to defend its approach to the Syrian problem on its own."

This, then, is what the diplomatic process aimed at ending the Syrian conflict has come to. With 93,000 dead and nearly 6 million Syrians displaced, the international community's response now seems to turn on Putin's mental state. What a relief that he isn't feeling too lonely.

Talk of Russian isolation at the G-8 summit was first sparked by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said that Russia is now the odd man out on Syria. "I don't think we should fool ourselves," Harper said. "This is the G7 plus one. Let's be blunt, that's what this is: the G7 plus one."

But if isolation was meant to spur a diplomatic breakthrough, the tactic failed. Putin succeeded in scrubbing mention of Assad from the final communiqué, which offered support for the stalled Geneva peace process and called on rebel groups affiliated with al Qaeda to pull out of Syria. (To put it gently, the likelihood that Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies would leave Syria is about as likely as Assad resigning and handing over power to the very same Sunni extremists.) The G-8 nations did pledge an additional $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid, but with half of the non-lethal aid pledged by the United States still sitting on U.S. shelves, take that pledge with a grain of salt.

Rather than producing a diplomatic breakthrough, this summit will probably be remembered as one of the great milestones in the meme-ification of diplomacy. After President Obama and Putin conducted a grimly awkward press conference, during which Putin tersely observed "of course our opinions do not coincide" and Obama described the situation with the following turn of phrase: "We have different perspectives on the problem. " But never mind the statements -- just a look at this image. It more or less tells the whole story and was, of course, picked up by BuzzFeed.
Putin has now become a master of playing the role of the bad guy at summits like these. Responding to demands that arms be sent to Syrian rebels, he dismissed the effort as one akin to arming cannibals. "You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras," Putin said at a press conference, referring to a video of a Syrian rebel commander cutting out the heart of a dead Assad fighter in ripping out a chunk of flesh with his teeth. "Are these the people you want to support?"
So, to recap, loneliness and cannibalism were two themes of a conference aimed at securing international support for an end to a brutal civil war. But don't worry, the diplomatic process is alive and well.

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