Vladimir Putin Shows His Softer Side

| Wed Sep. 4, 2013 10:27 AM EDT

With the G20 summit coming up, Vladimir Putin has suddenly decided that he should sound statesmanlike and reasonable. If the United States comes up with real evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, he might decide to support punitive action after all:

“I don’t rule this out,” Putin said during a televised interview with First Channel, a Russian federal television network, and the Associated Press. “But I want to draw your attention to one absolutely principled issue: In accordance with the current international law, a sanction to use arms against a sovereign state can be given only by the U.N. Security Council.”

Putin said he will be convinced only by “a deep, detailed study of the issue and the real presence of evidence that could clearly prove who used what [weapons]."

“After that we will be ready to act in a most resolute and serious way,” he said. He did not say what actions he is considering.

OK. And how about all the recent chilliness with President Obama? Just a myth:

Putin said he still hopes for a meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. Putin said he recalled previous meetings with Obama as “very constructive,” and praised the U.S. president as “a very interesting interlocutor and a business-like person.”

“It is easy to talk with him, because it is clear what the man wants. His position is clear, and he hears out the position of ... his opponent and reacts to it,” Putin said.

Western leaders, whether or not they support air strikes against Syria, pretty unanimously consider the Limbaugh/Putin position that the rebels conducted the gas attack ridiculous. I guess the prospect of a meeting where everyone considers your views laughable concentrates the mind wonderfully, so Putin decided to back off a bit. But is this just a temporary change of heart to get him through the summit without being mocked too much, or something more permanent? The former, I'd guess, but we'll see.

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