Why Syria Brought David Cameron to Sochi

May 15, 2013

On Friday May 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin received British Prime Minister David Cameron in Sochi, and later thanked him for a very candid conversation.  Almost all of this candor was related to Syria. Meanwhile, David Cameron did not send any message to US President Barack Obama, although many experts had spoken of this on the eve of the meeting as a decided matter. Special Kommersant correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov describes what actually happened on the visit. [This is an excerpt of the full article by Andrei Kolesnikov—Editor]

The leaders of countries like Great Britain do not come to Sochi often. Only a really urgent matter would bring a government figure here from London. The situation in Syria undoubtedly is such a matter.

“I remember how you graciously accompanied me to a judo tournament during the Olympics Games in London. Today I would like to return the favor and show you the 2014 Olympics facilities,” Mr. Putin told the British Prime Minister at the outset of their meeting.

In fact, the memory could hardly be said to have been as pleasant for Mr. Cameron as for Vladimir Putin. The British Prime Minister really did come to the judo tournament with the Russian President, and most importantly, witnessed the British woman in the judo quarter-finals lose apocalyptically to a Bulgarian woman. When our Russian judo wrestler entered the finals, and David Cameron, crushed by the defeat of his countrywoman, seemed to leave the hall very upset, most likely so as to avoid witnessing the triumph of two Russia judo-ists – Tagir Khaybulaev and Vladimir Putin.

But to give him credit, he did at least come and sit for as long as he could stand it.

So now the Russian president has invited the British prime minister on a tour of the Olympic facilities. In fact, according to Kommersant’s sources, the British themselves selected the Fisht Central Olympics Stadium for a tour on foot. As bad luck would have it, this is the only unfinished building – there will be no test competitions here, but only the opening and closing ceremonies, so it will be completed supposedly in November.

The selection of Fisht actually was not provocative – the stadium was designed by a British star of world sports architecture, Daimon Lavelle.

The talks did not take long, and included lunch, over which, undoubtedly, the discussion of the bloody Syrian crisis went down more easily.

No breakthrough could reasonably be expected at these talks, yet it was anticipated anyway: David Cameron was supposed to fly to Washington after Sochi to meet with Obama, and it was believed that he would bring to the American President some sort of opinion from the Russian President regarding Syria.

But nothing of the sort happened, according to Kommersant’s sources. A reply to the recent message from Obama himself to Vladimir Putin (in the letter to the Russian president, the Syrian problem takes up the most space) will be brought in the coming days by a more reliable person – Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council.

In Sochi, however, according to a source among the Russian negotiators, the talk was mainly about how a conference (or something of that sort) must be convened as quickly as possible, in which all the interested parties will take part. The problem is only whom to consider an interested party:  the UK, for example, believes one section of the Syrian opposition should be represented, while Russia wants a different section of the opposition (thank God, there are a lot of opposition movements in Syria now).

There is no doubt that such a conference will take place soon. In the meantime, as Vladimir Putin assured his British colleague, the S-300 systems will definitely be delivered to Syria.

Meanwhile, it was obvious that the personal relations between Vladimir Putin and David Cameron are now already on much better footing then relations between Russia and Great Britain. They aren’t yet friends, but comrades – yes, there’s that. Moreover, there’s the impression that Vladimir Putin is befriending David Cameron for educational purposes (as he is educating, for example, former Prime Minister Tony Blair as well).

This was sensed when the colleagues arrived at Fisht. Here they were greeted by Mr. Lavelle, the architect, Alexander Zhukov, President of the Russian Olympics Committee, and Vice Premier Dmitry Kozak.

“When will the stadium be ready?” Mr. Kozak was asked as the two leaders climbed up the long staircase. “Will it really be finished by November, as planned?”

For now, from a bird’s eye view, the reinforced concrete framework looks like a computer mouse (starved into a skeleton) and does not at all produce the impression of a building that will be ready earlier than the night before the opening ceremony.

“Why in November?” Dmitry Kozak replied, offended. “We will turn it over in September. And in November we will open it. The final work is already under way in the basement premises […] It’s under way!”

Even so, he cast a hostile look over the structure with a certain concealed disapproval and continued:

“In general, it’s much prettier here at night.”

Dmitry Kozak repeated the same thing regarding the deadlines for completion to the two leaders after they descended from a helicopter (they flew around the rest of the buildings, which also seem much more attractive from above):

“We’ll turn it over in September!”

Mr. Cameron raised an eyebrow in surprise. Even so, his mood was jolly.

“They promise!” the Russian President laughed.

“Well, we’ll try to keep it under control,” Mr. Kozak added.