In the weeks leading to the UN General Assembly, the Kremlin orchestrated a takeover of an unfolding narrative on civil war in Syria. Increasing Russian military presence appeared to only be the start of Putin’s strategy for the region, as more recent statements revealed joint efforts in intelligence gathering by Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. These and other developments were showcased to the world at the United Nations General Assembly.
After the showdown between Obama and Putin, official Russian media sources really put the spotlight on the American president in general critique of Western strategy on Syria. His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was heralded for a more assertive foreign policy, with particular points highlighted from his presentation at the UNGA. Independent sources within Russia remained far more critical of the official discourse, as doubts were cast on Putin’s policy in the region:
“Vladimir Putin presented the UN with an updated version of his 2007 Munich speech. Rhetorical angles were changed and new plots were added: ISIS, the war in Syria, the Arab Spring, the coup and civil war in Ukraine – but nothing principally new in how Vladimir Putin sees the world and lives with it.” – Vladimir Frolov, slon.ru. “Munich speech – 2015. Syria, Ukraine and post-soviet space according to Vladimir Putin.”
American media also reacted strongly to Putin’s shift in Russian policy on the civil war in Syria. Mainstream news stressed a struggle by US officials to direct discourse on Assad’s regime and the Islamic State. Despite attempts by Barack Obama to speak on the sovereignty of Ukraine during the UNGA, media headlines were more concerned with developments in the ongoing Syria crisis and the larger Middle East region. Affiliated sources also commented on the resulting narrative within Russian media:
“Yet the images of the two leaders together are being splashed across the Russian media as a huge triumph for Mr. Putin. The narrative, which began circulating as soon as the meeting was announced, is that not only did the valiant Mr. Putin confront and condemn the weak Mr. Obama and the evil United States, he did so in New York City, the belly of the beast itself. As soon as the first pictures were taken, the meeting became a great success for Mr. Putin, and another self-inflicted defeat for American foreign policy—and for stability and democracy in the Middle East.” – Garry Kasparov, Wall Street Journal. “Putin Takes a Victory Lap While Obama Watches.”
Lithuanian sources did not pay as much attention to the various contra-positions of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly. Event coverage mostly revolved around the visible discomfort experienced by the two leaders in each other’s presence. Interestingly, their meeting was reflected in the background of the Syrian crisis rather than the one in Ukraine.
Estonian coverage of the UNGA centered on divided discourse of Putin’s strategy for Syria and Obama’s concern for Ukraine. Far more detail surrounded coverage of Putin’s speech, with looming expectations of a bold stance to encourage Western cooperation in Syria. The private meeting between between Obama and Putin attracted disproportionate interest from several sources, as Delfi speculated that Putin sought the meeting after being “blacklisted” in the international community.
Far less attention was devoted by the German media to the clashing rhetoric of Obama and Putin. Despite a considerable number of articles on the UNGA, most of the focus was again placed on the meeting between the two presidents within summit framework. Only here media sources reacted more positively to the development, believing that it could have been a sign of progress for both countries in finding a common solution on Syria. While news headlines from around the world stressed an irreconcilable split between the White House and the Kremlin, German media made the painstaking effort of extending discourse to bridge their increasingly divergent positions. This glimmering light of hope stood out against the backdrop of an international news coverage largely eclipsed by the perceived realities of “politics as usual.”