Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday had a close-up brush with Western anger over the Ukraine crisis and the downing of Flight MH17, as the White House warned that his sanctions-hit government was staring at “isolation”.
Putin held separate bilateral meetings in Beijing with US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott — after the latter had used colourful sporting terminology to demand a face-to-face encounter with the Russian strongman.
But the Kremlin said that on the fate of the Malaysia Airlines plane at least, which the West says was downed by a Russian missile supplied to pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine, Putin was not standing in the way of a full and transparent accounting.
The White House said Obama and Putin had met three times on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Chinese capital, which was taking place ahead of a G20 summit to be hosted by Abbott in Australia this weekend.
“Their conversations covered Iran, Syria, and Ukraine,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told reporters in Beijing.
Both Russia and the United States are involved in the P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, but on Syria Moscow is a key ally of Bashar al-Assad’s government and has supported him throughout the uprising that began in March 2011.
The biggest current differences between the US and Russia, though, are over Ukraine.
In mid-October, Putin accused Obama of having a hostile attitude towards Russia, while Obama decried “Russian aggression in Europe” in a recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Earlier Tuesday US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Beijing: “We continue to be deeply troubled by Russian activities. If they continue… it’s a recipe for isolation.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, reportedly warned at the weekend that the world was on the “brink of a new Cold War” at an event to mark 25 years since the Berlin Wall’s fall.