Syria Sketch: 'Dead eyed' Putin asks: 'Do you want to support people who eat the guts of their enemies?'

Smaller than Cameron – but stocky – Putin managed to carry off an air of menace effortlessly
  • @oliver_wright

It started badly and then got worse. To begin with President Putin and his delegation were late. Their plane into the UK was delayed and when they did finally arrive at Downing Street, they had to be taken in through the back entrance to avoid a Turkish protest taking place on Whitehall. You could imagine Putin musing that you wouldn’t see that happening in Moscow.

After the obligatory forced smiles for the camera outside Number 10, Mr Putin and David Cameron got down to business.

Except rather than the one-to-one talks that the British had been expecting earlier in the week, the Russians had decided to bring along their Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to join the party. So a tete-a-tete became a foursome, with diplomatic protocol dictating that William Hague also be included in the talks. There was going to be no repeat for Mr Cameron of his “productive” private talks last month.

What went on in the meeting was, of course, private but what was clear to everyone at the press conference afterwards was that the Russian President was not in a happy mood.

Smaller than David Cameron – but stocky – Mr Putin managed to carry off an air of menace effortlessly. His dead eyes darted around the room – meeting the gaze of journalists and holding it for slightly too long before moving on dismissively.

When it was his turn to speak he somehow managed to convey disinterest and disdain with his body language even though the translated words were ostensively warm. But even the translator could not disguise the President’s virulent reaction to the one question that a British journalist was allowed to ask.

David Cameron, he was told, had said last year that those who supplied arms to the Assad regime had blood on their hands – what was his reaction? Distain turned to undiplomatic anger that no translator could put a gloss on.

“You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras,” he almost spat.  “Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”

Standing next to him, Mr Cameron looked distinctly awkward. His heckles raised, Putin did not seem to be in the mood to stick around. Before Mr Cameron had even finished answering the the final question, he removed his ear piece, picked up his notes and stood irritably waiting the for the Prime Minister to finish.

It does not augur well for the G8.