They're usually quite tense. The most recent meeting, with Ukraine President Poroshenko, resulted in photos like this one:
Of course, the duo's respective countries are mired in a violent conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Putin hadn't met with Poroshenko for more than two months.
But here at The Wire, we're taking the opportunity to review Putin's form in such photo ops. Whether negotiating peace proposals or commemorating World War II, Putin never looks fully comfortable with standing/talking/interacting in any way with his fellow world leaders. He just doesn't have that winning smile and friendly posture others (read: Obama) have — which isn't a bad thing, just a noticeable thing.
And so, we present his last five uncomfortable photo ops, ranked from least to most awkward:
5. August 10, 2014: Meeting with Armenia and Azerbaijan
Leaders Present: Armenia President Serzh Sargsyan; Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev
In early August, eastern European countries Armenia and Azerbaijan's fighting grew to a boil. Putin called Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to a meeting at his Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi. Here's the photo from the meeting:
Verdict: Besides the comically large table, the level of discomfort isn't too bad here. In fact, Putin looks more bored than awkward.
4. May 14, 2013: Meeting with Israel
Leaders Present: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
This photo op is a bit older than the rest, but it shows Putin's discomfort, so we're keeping it in. Putin met with Netanyahu to discuss Syria's civil war, and by discuss, he meant sending out a warning against foreign military intervention or helping anti-government forces, which made the meeting more tense than his average photo op. Take a look:
Verdict: Relatively awkward. Putin's been fortifying Russia's relationship with Israel, after all, but even in this moment, he doesn't seem to want to be there.
3. August 24, 2014: Meeting with Ukraine
Leaders Present: Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko
The situation was certainly not ideal: The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine has left thousands dead, and many point to Putin and Russia as the backers of separatist groups in the region, many of which have precipitated the chaos.
This was the result:
Verdict: Alongside the earlier photo of them separated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, this meeting, though uncomfortable, ranks third for the details: Notice Putin's sweat, oddly intense stare, and the clear discomfort in those watching the two shake hands.
2. June 18, 2013: The G8 Summit
Leaders Present: U.S. President Barack Obama; U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; French President Francois Hollande; etc.
Summits are challenging for Putin — congratulations, here's a group of people with immense power who might not approve what you're doing! Luckily for us, the summit produced a deluge of delightfully uncomfortable Putin photo ops. Exhibit A, Putin with Cameron and Obama:
Exhibit B, the same group, now indoors:
Exhibit C, with Merkel:
Exhibit D, with Obama:
Verdict: Granted, the last two photos show Merkel and Obama being just as awkward, but all of this? So, so awkward. It's not boredom, it's a lack of understanding how to pose with groups of waving, smiling politicians. But maybe that's just Putin's style. Case in point...
1. June 6, 2014: The 70th Anniversary of World War II's D-Day Landings
Leaders Present: U.S. President Barack Obama; British Queen Elizabeth II; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; French President Francois Hollande; Norway's King Harald; Belgium's King Philippe; many, many more
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: The D-Day celebrations yielded the most on-point Putin photo of all time:
Verdict: Pull it together, Putin. This one's past awkward — it's cringe-worthy. Maybe it's better to just stick with commissioned photo shoots instead?