After he canceled bilateral talks with Russian counterpart (and remained with two days off on the presidential agenda), Barack Obama seems to be very interested in relations with the Northern countries. So en route to G20 Summit (Sankt Petersburg, Russia), he is doing a stopover in Stockholm (Sweden), where the leader of the White House will meet with PM Fredrik Reinfeldt and King Carl XVI Gustav and will get dinner with leaders of the Northern countries from Western Europe – Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark.
This visit comes as a follow of last week, when Obama met in Washington with the heads of the Northern countries from Eastern Europe – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Of course, from discussions in Washington did not miss the conflict in Syria, as it probably will not miss to the meetings in Stockholm, although on the official agenda we can to find: the challenges arising by climate change (it is known that the northern European states are on the top list of the ‘greenest countries’ in the world!), regional security and development of bilateral trade. I don’t know which are the final results (in the medium and long term) connected with this new diplomatic approach and the strategic vision of Washington regarding the Northern states. However, (in the short term) Obama seems trying to prepare for his diplomatic offensive at the G20 Summit.
Assad’s fate will warm up the atmosphere of the meeting in the northern and cold capital of Russia, St. Petersburg, where Obama – willing or not – will meet with the “repudiated” leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin; also with the leader of China, Xi Jinping; the both countries actively oppose to the foreign intervention in Syria, but also Obama will meet with David Cameron, British Prime Minister, who washed his hands like Pontius Pilate, and passed the decision to support military intervention in Syria to the British Parliament, parliament which, despite arguments delivered for several hours by the chief of executive in London, gave negative vote.
If on these three cases things seem somewhat clear (though American leader has provided a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping) and extraordinary changes are difficult to predict (except if Obama will “pleasantly” surprise the Kremlin leader and will put on the table of world heavyweight undeniable evidence that incriminates the Assad regime), however, the U.S. leader has the chance even to keep solidarity of France and Germany ( in last case only one rather declarative and quite elusive). And to obtain declarative consent of other leaders – argument can be put forward to the United Nations. Well, I say keep because president Hollande has just spoke yesterday that he could ask the French parliament, a declaration that, associated with the deprivation of principal ally, Great Britain and the step back made by Obama himself who will request advisory agreement of US Congress, seems rather a step in retreat. Germany, which is in full Bundestag election campaign, most likely will still choose a moderate way and will try to be as low voice on this issue.
When hosting an international event of such importance, Russia knows every time to catch a large part of the benefits in terms of image and external perceptions, and it is easy to predict that this time will not be different. Regard the signals from the Kremlin, Barack Obama is right to expect an offensive campaign of the Russian leader, who recently, slightly ironical, said that “was surprised” that the Western community no longer runs “without comment” everything that Washington decides. Last public appearances of Vladimir Putin (including Channel One Russia tv & AP interview in the preamble G20 Summit that was published today) shows that (even if regarding domestic policy, things not look pretty good) when is about foreign policy, Russian president feels excellent in his skin and knows that he is not an opponent easy to overcome. Most likely Putin will try to convince the leaders attending to the Summit that by sending in ridiculous a conference where the both sides of the Syrian conflict to sit at the same table was a mistake and that a diplomatic solution is better than a military intervention against Assad (however limited it may be), with small chances of removing the Syrian leader from power but with big chances of turning into a regional conflict.
Even if on the official agenda of the 8-th meeting of the G20 is not found Syrian issue, it certainly will dominate the formal&informal discussions to the detriment fo economic priorities. Which also are not few, and are not unimportant (but we’re talking about in the coming days). Leaders of emerging economies have already a list with the important topics that they would like/need to be addressed, and political saturation of event can be rather counterproductive for both leaders, of the Kremlin and the White House. We will see whether the two leaders will be able to avoid as a major economic summit – with (uncommon but necessary) a major political stake – to become a battle of vanities with null result or not.