Vladimir Putin really wants to talk to Barack Obama.
Earlier this month, Moscow suggested Russian and U.S. military officials discuss Syria, where Russia recently increased its military presence. Now, the Russian president has asked to meet with his American counterpart while they’re both in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly, and the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine will no doubt dominate their conversation.
Washington accepted both offers, breaking from its posture toward Moscow that for the past year has involved diplomatic isolation and sanctions, sanctions, and more sanctions. The last time Obama and Putin met face-to-face was in November 2014, when they spoke on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. Before that, in June, they bumped into each other at lunch at the G-7 summit in Brussels. The leaders have spoken by phone a few times, most recently in July about the Iran deal—both the U.S. and Russia were part of the team of six countries that negotiated with the Islamic Republic—but until now there had been no effort on either side to schedule a formal meeting.
For Putin, the meeting is a chance to “get back in the West’s good graces in a hurry, or at least change the conversation,” explain Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew Kramer in The New York Times. For Obama, “it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians,” an administration official told USA Today in an explanation of the president’s acceptance of the latest offer.