President Barack Obama is heading into the lion's den of Vladimir Putin-led Russia, confronting Syria's key patron as well as foreign leaders skeptical of his call for an international military strike against Bashar Assad's government, which has increasingly come under attack for gassing civilians in Damascus.
Obama on Thursday begins a two-day visit to St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 economic summit, putting him in the same country as Edward Snowden for the first time since the American fugitive fled to Moscow earlier this year. Both Syria and Snowden have been sore points in an already strained U.S.-Russian relationship, fueling the notion that Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin just can't get along.
The White House went out of its way to say Obama would not meet one-on-one with the Russian leader while in St. Petersburg. Instead, Obama will meet on the summit's sidelines with the leaders of France, China and Japan.
Still struggling to persuade dubious lawmakers at home on Syria, Obama in Russia will seek to win over world leaders reluctant to get drawn in to yet another U.S.-led sortie in a Mideast nation. Although Syria wasn't formally on the agenda for the economy-focused summit, U.S. officials were resigned to the fact that the bloody civil war there surely would overwhelm any talks about global economics, just as it did three months ago when many of the same leaders convened for a Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland.
In June, it was weapons and ammunition Obama wanted leaders to send to struggling rebels fighting Assad's regime. Obama's far more daunting goal now will be to persuade his counterparts to put their own militaries on the line.
In an ironic twist for Obama, the nation hosting the summit is also the nation most forcefully obstructing Obama's path to an international consensus. Russia has provided critical military and financial backing for Assad and has leveraged its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to keep a resolution condemning Syria from getting off the ground. At the same time, Obama has had little success enticing individual nations to join