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Putin and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman share high-five at G20 summit in Argentina

Two leaders surrounded by controversy share ‘stomach-churning’ greeting in Buenos Aires

Tom Barnes
Saturday 01 December 2018 12:21 GMT
Vladimir Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman shake hands at G20

Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman raised eyebrows when they shared an enthusiastic high-five at the G20 summit.

The Russian president and Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader were seen smiling and laughing as they greeted each other at the meeting of world leaders in Buenos Aires.

The crown prince was expected to arrive in Argentina as something of a pariah, thanks to Saudi military action in famine-hit Yemen and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October.

Mr bin Salman has repeatedly denied ordering the death of the Washington Post columnist, a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, but US intelligence agencies have concluded he had direct involvement.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin is also under scrutiny over the attempted nerve agent murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March, which Britain accuses Moscow of orchestrating, as well as the seizure of Ukrainian ships amid the ongoing crisis in Crimea.

Many Western commentators reacted with revulsion to the public display of camaraderie between Mr bin Salman and Mr Putin.

“It’s actually a little stomach-churning,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told CNN.

“One leader who is complicit in the murder and dismemberment of a moderate journalist and another leader who is complicit in the murder of Russian-exile spies.”

“I found that chilling to watch,” Washington Post writer David Ignatius told MSNBC’s Hardball. “If I was to write a caption for that scene we just saw it would be: ‘You can get away with murder’.”

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Activist Shaun King shared video of the greeting on Twitter, describing Mr Putin and Mr bin Salman as “evil”.

“Watch [Putin’s] GLEEFUL, happy, laughing embrace of Saudi Crown Prince MBS just now,” he said.

“This man had @washingtonpost journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered and cut in pieces and this is the loving embrace he gets.”

Despite the warm welcome from the Russian president, the crown prince has also been forced to endure some more tense exchanges during the summit.

Video emerged on Friday of Mr bin Salman engaged in a hushed discussion with French president Emmanuel Macron.

During the conversation, which covered both the Khashoggi affair and the war in Yemen, the crown prince can be heard to say “Don’t worry,” to which Mr Macron responds “I am worried”.

Emmanuel Macron and Mohammed Bin Salman meet at G20 in Argentina

“You never listen to me,” the French leader says. “I will listen, of course,” the Saudi royal replies.

An Elysee Palace official said Mr Macron had conveyed “very firm” messages to the prince at the summit over the murder of Khashoggi and the need to find a political solution to the conflict in Yemen.

Theresa May also told Mr bin Salman that Khashoggi’s killers should be held to account, the prime minister’s office said after the pair met on Friday.

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