President Barack Obama (154648)

Special to the AmNews

Call it poker, chess or political arm wrestling. Regardless, the showdown between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin was brinkmanship on the world stage Monday at the U.N. At the crux of their differences is Ukraine and Syria, the latter perhaps being where there is the most contention.

The Obama administration insists that much of the crisis in Syria would end if President Bashar al-Assad were removed. Putin, on the other hand, strongly supports the Syrian leader, contending that to remove him would only bring about more chaos.

Bothersome for both Obama and Putin is the gnawing presence of the Islamic State group, and the two leaders have different notions about its origin and how to eradicate or minimize the danger it presents.

“I’ve said before and I will repeat,” Obama said during his speech. “There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them. We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.”

“No one except for Assad and his militia is truly fighting ISIS in Syria,” Putin charged in his speech. Rather than joining the existing coalition, which he purposely ignored, Putin proposes a new one led by Russia. He said that IS, with its bloody crimes, have made “a mockery of Islam and perverts its true humanistic values.” He said that Muslim nations would play a key role in the new coalition.

Without directly implicating Russia, Obama said, “We see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law. We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted. We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.”

Putin put a different spin on the situation during his speech, asserting, “We think it is an enormous mistake to not cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces. No one but Assad’s armed forces and the Kurdish militias are truly fighting ISIS and other terrorists in Syria.”

The disagreements between Obama and Putin continued on the issue of Ukraine, in which Obama said, “Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine. America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia. It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.”

Obama’s mention of a possible Cold War between Russia and the U.S. was certain to trigger a reaction from Putin, and he blamed those at the top of the pyramid after the founding of the U.N. for violating its principles. He claimed that a “military coup” was the catalyst for the “civil war” in the Ukraine, though there was no military coup in the country. Even Putin has admitted that the president abdicated and fled the country, assisted by Russia.

Finding common ground on Syria and the Ukraine is clearly hopeless, and Obama and Putin can best hope that some of their similar positions on Iran and curtailing its nuclear capability stays in place.