Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama shook hands and chatted in a six-second encounter Sunday at a summit in Turkey, breaking the ice for the first time since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria.
Obama, Putin — whose previous meetings have been marked by stony-faced body language — grasped hands and exchanged words, inaudible to reporters, before joining a family photo at the summit of the Group of 20 top economies.
The formality appeared cordial if brief, with Obama clapping Putin twice on the arm and the Russian strongman nodding in assent before moving on to take his place for the photo in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya.
It was their first meeting since Russia launched its declared anti-Islamic State air bombardment in Syria at the end of September. The West suspects the campaign is aimed at propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
US and Russian officials say the pair may hold informal talks on the sidelines of the summit here although nothing has been officially scheduled.
Relations between the two powers have deteriorated to a post-Cold War low, in particular over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Russia embarked on its air campaign in Syria just after Putin’s last meeting with Obama in New York in September.
The frosty atmosphere at Putin’s previous meetings with Obama has become a symbol of the decline in Russia-US relations, with the Russian leader seen slumped in his chair legs akimbo and the US president appearing deeply uncomfortable.
Obama in 2013 had joked that Putin looked like “that bored schoolboy in the back of the classroom”, adding to offence he caused in 2009 by saying the ex-KGB spy had “one foot in the old ways of doing business”.