G-20 LEADERS kicked off their two-day summit on Thursday, with Russian President Vladimir Putin welcoming them to his home town of St Petersburg.
Amid clear blue skies, the Russian leader stood waiting in the courtyard of a grand palace built in the early 18th century for Peter the Great, which he had ordered restored for use as a presidential palace about a decade ago.
One by one, the leaders drove up in black limousines to be greeted by their Russian host, before being ushered inside the ornate sal-mon-pink building. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was among those he met, one of six non G-20 leaders invited to the summit.
All eyes were peeled for the moment Mr Putin came face-to-face with his United States counterpart, President Barack Obama. The two men looked set for a showdown over US allegations that Russia's longtime ally, Syria, had used chemical weapons and should be punished for it.
Their frosty relations had led well-known French newspaper Le Figaro to kick off one of its reports yesterday with a headline pointing dramatically to a "new Cold War" between the one-time superpower rivals.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Putin had rubbished the evidence presented by US leaders that Syria had resorted to using toxic sarin gas in an attack last month that killed more than 1,400 people, describing this as "absurd" and "utter nonsense".
He even suggested that US Secretary of State John Kerry had knowingly misled and even lied to the US Congressional committee that he had lobbied for support for US military action.
Mr Obama, speaking in Sweden on Wednesday on his way to Russia, said he would continue to engage with Mr Putin to try to win Russian support for punitive action against Syria.
He made it plain that it was not so much his personal credibility that was at stake, but that of the international community, the US and the American Congress, since all of these had signed up to international agreements which outlawed the use of chemical weapons. "I didn't set a red line, the world set a red line," he said.