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Putin’s comments came shortly after meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Bali, Indonesia.
The Russian president had initially been scheduled to meet with his American counterpart in Bali, but Obama remained in Washington to deal with the fallout of the US government shutdown.
The two sides were expected to discuss developments regarding the Washington-backed UN-sanctioned agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in an effort to avert a US military strike.
“I am very pleased that President Obama took such a position; I don’t think this was an easy situation for him, but he made that decision. This is precisely what the Secretary of State and I talked about: we discussed the prospects for destroying chemical weapons in Syria and how we can build our future work in this and several other areas,” Putin said in press statements made following the APEC summit.
Putin stressed that Russia and the US share the same values and goals, such as establishing stability and creating conditions for the peaceful coexistence of “people of all faiths, religions, and ethnicities” who live in Syria,
“But in this respect significant progress has been made, as you can see. We agreed with our American partners about how and what we should do in the medium-term,” Putin said.
In late August, Obama proposed a military strike against Syrian government targets in response to a chemical weapons attack which killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus.
The White House blamed the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for the attack, but could not muster domestic or international consensus to hit Assad.
At the 11th hour, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov picked up on a statement that Kerry had made in London about the possibility that Assad could avoid a strike if he destroyed his chemical weapons.
Following a series of meetings between Russian and US officials, UN inspectors arrived in Syria, and earlier this week, they began destroying the stockpile of chemical weapons.
Andrei Sushentsov, a lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, says that the progress on Syria is based on the common interest of the two countries to prevent escalation of the conflict to a regional level.
“In addition, the collapse of the existing government in Syria would trigger inter-sectarian strife in the country with Al-Qaeda most probably as a winning force. This development is what Russia and the US want to avoid. Thus Russia perceives new US stance on Syria as a return to common sense,” Sushentsov told The BRICS Post.
Russia is hoping to now achieve consensus on the importance of holding multi-party peace talks – with both the government and opposition in attendance – in Geneva.
Mark Sleboda, a senior lecturer and researcher of international relations and security at Moscow State University, says Russia’s intention is to continue the diplomatic process and nudge the US further towards the path of following existing international law.
“However, we should understand also the cynical and double-edged undertone of this statement and its inherent admonishment of the Obama regime. It is an established fact that United States has been illegally supporting political opposition and arming Islamic jihadists in Syria since at least 2007, and continues to do so today, despite the United Nations Security Council resolution and agreement on destroying Syria’s chemical deterrent that has borne such fruit,” Sleboda said.
This US “interference in Syria’s domestic affairs” helped cause and today continues the tragedy of the civil war and ethno-religious conflict in Syria, Sleboda added.
At APEC, Putin also emphasised that regardless of the long-standing differences on Syria, Russia and the US have never stopped cooperating in other fields.
Trade turnover with Washington, however, has been declining for the past two years, said Putin
In 2012, bilateral trade with the US reached $31 billion, and this year it is estimated to stand at $28 billion.
At the same time Putin stressed that Russia’s bilateral trade with China is constantly increasing.
“Its growth rate fell slightly, but this year it will increase by at least 5 per cent, and already amounts to $57.5 billion. $57.5 billion on the one hand and $28 billion on the other. Do you see the difference?” Putin said.
By Daria Chernyshova in Moscow, Russia for The BRICS Post