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No G20 bilateral meet but Putin to 'shake Obama's hand'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

President Vladimir Putin has no plans for a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama at the G20 summit next week but will greet him and "shake his hand," a Kremlin official said Friday.

With US-Russia tensions reaching a new peak over the Syrian crisis and Moscow's decision to give asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Putin's foreign policy advisor Yury Ushakov appeared compelled to note that Obama will be treated just like any other leader.

"Putin will naturally greet Obama among other leaders, shake his hand and then we will see," Ushakov told reporters ahead of the Group of 20 summit Russia hosts next week in Saint Petersburg.

The preparations for the summit come as Obama is mulling possible military action against Russia's ally Syria following suspected chemical attacks that claimed hundreds of lives last week.

With US strikes on Syria possibly just days ahead of the summit, any encounter between Putin and Obama in Saint Petersburg is expected to be especially awkward.

At the briefing, Ushakov reeled off a long list of the summit's participants with whom Putin planned to meet for either full-blown or brief meetings on the sidelines of the summit. But Obama was not among them.

"A meeting with Obama is not planned," he said, admitting that the two men will still have a chance to speak to each other at the summit.

"Whether it will be standing up or in chairs, I do not know," he said.

With the Syrian crisis at the forefront of the world agenda, many expect the highly polarising issue of mooted military action against Syria to highjack the G20 agenda.

Ushakov said Friday any US military strikes bypassing the UN Security Council "will inflict huge damage to the system based on the central role of the UN."

"They will deal a serious blow to the entire system of world order," he said.

He added that Russia did not want to see a situation where "one or a group of states brings charges (against someone), passes judgement and then executes their own sentence."

"Russia is actively working to prevent a military scenario in Syria."

A bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Saint-Petersburg was not scheduled "because we and the Americans planned a full-scale state visit (by Obama) to Moscow, which, as you know, is not happening," Ushakov said.

Obama scrapped plans to come to Moscow after Russia gave temporary asylum to Snowden despite repeated protests by Washington which wants him extradited.

The two leaders' previous meeting at the G8 summit at the Lough Erne golf resort in Northern Ireland in June was noticeably frosty and ended in PR disaster, with journalists scrutinising their body language and pointing to their apparent unease with each other.

Afterwards Obama admitted Putin looked like "the bored kid in the back of the classroom."

As well as the row over the Syrian conflict and Snowden, US-Russia ties have been stretched by a host of other disputes, most notably human rights following Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term last year.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, speaking alongside Ushakov, apparently sought to lighten the mood, saying Putin and Obama sat next to each at the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, last year and chatted animatedly.

But then the two agreed: "Los Cabos is already history."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130830/no-g20-bilateral-meet-putin-shake-obamas-hand-0