Syria is currently one of the hottest, most fiercely debated topics in international affairs. From the outset, Russia has been against military intervention; its clash over this issue with President Obama has been a yet another source of tension in these two countries’ relations. Even though finding a solution that everyone is content with is currently causing a headache for the world leaders, the very significance of the crisis to the international community has actually come to benefit the Russian president in a number of ways.
Not only is Putin for once on the same side as many other Western leaders with regards to non-intervention in Syria, but also he has now emerged as the leading international negotiator with his proposal for the Assad regime to put the Syrian chemical weapons under international control. Syria’s agreement to do so is a major personal win for Putin, portraying him as he has never been seen before — a peacemaker. It seems like the West was all too quick to forget that Russia has been selling arms to Syria and had also blocked all previous attempts to seek a resolution through an international organization.
Obama has suffered a loss of support among the Russian population that sees themselves as part of the opposition to Putin’s regime. As opinion polls show that most Russian people are strongly against military intervention in Syria, Obama's initial readiness to attack Syria has severely weakened his image in Russia.
Russia’s last attempt to challenge the U.S. — granting Edward Snowden asylum — was seen as a diplomatic disaster. Yet during the recent G20 meeting, Snowden’s name was not even mentioned, with Obama stating that Syria was primarily the topic of the conversation. Now Obama must rely on the Russian president to use his influence over Assad. In fact, Putin’s plan has (for now at least) saved Obama from suffering an embarrassing defeat in Congress and/or starting another unpopular war. Meanwhile, Snowden continues to cause a headache for Washington.
Russia has been getting heat from the West and the U.S. for its recent laws which discriminate against the gay community; this was expected to be another source of tensions at the G20 summit. Despite this, Obama steered clear of directly addressing the gay rights controversy. His meeting with the Russian gay activists left them feeling “disappointed” and “let down” as the president did not press this issue with Putin, arguing that he “cannot prioritize human rights in American relationship with Russia.”
So Russia may not be engulfed in a civil war, but its own recent crackdown on opposition is another uncomfortable topic for the Kremlin removed from the international spotlight by the Syrian crisis. From the confiscation of several humorous X-rated portraits of Putin and of Putin and Obama with claims that they “violate a number of unspecified laws” to the jailing of the opposition leaders and the controversy surrounding Moscow mayoral elections, the diversion of international attention to Syria is a blessing for the Russian leader.