Moscow: Russia on Thursday hosts the G20 summit hoping to push forward an agenda to stimulate growth but with world leaders distracted by divisions on the prospect of US-led military action in Syria.
After US President Barack Obama`s surprise decision to seek the backing of Congress for strikes against President Bashar al-Assad`s regime, it now appears any attack will take place after the two-day summit in Saint Petersburg, leaving an air of tense uncertainty hanging over the event.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a vocal critic of the West`s policies on Syria, has expressed strong doubt that Assad was behind an alleged chemical attack on August 21 that has prompted the plan for military action.
Leaders are expected to agree a Saint Petersburg "action plan" for sustainable and balanced global growth but these ambitions risk being drowned out amid the cacophony accompanying debate between major powers on Syria.
Despite being the biggest current headache for the international community, the Syrian crisis does not formally feature on the official agenda of the annual summit of the world`s top 20 developed and emerging nations.
But there can be little doubt it will dominate bilateral meetings and may yet feature in plenary sessions at the seaside Tsarist palace of Strelna on the Gulf of Finland seashore.
"The G20 was created to solve financial and economic problems for a stabilisation of the global economy," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"The topic (of Syria) is not on the agenda. But any leader at the summit can raise this question and we are ready for such a conversation."
Arguably the two most important global protagonists over the Syrian crisis -- Obama and Putin -- are currently not even planning to have a one-on-one meeting at the summit.
The United States last month cancelled a planned bilateral summit in Moscow due to the row over US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden. The Kremlin, peeved by the snub, said there was no time to pencil in a summit bilateral with the US leader.
With tension haunting US-Russia ties, Putin will be looking to show with a string of meetings with emerging market allies -- notably Chinese President Xi Jinping -- that Moscow is in no way isolated.
Indeed, the informal BRICS grouping of the leading emerging markets -- Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa -- is expected to have its own mini-summit in a demonstration of the group`s strategic importance.
The split between Russia and the West on Syria currently seems irreconcilable.