Syria-ously? Obama pushes gay rights in Russia while lobbying Putin on Syria

President Barack Obama is rhetorically waving the gay-rights flag on his visit to Russia, even as he is working to soften or bypass opposition from Russia’s president to a strike on Syria.

The St. Petersburg summit is hosted by Vladimir Putin, who signed a law in July curbing political advocacy by gays and lesbians. He’s also opposing Obama’s effort to build U.S. and international support for a strike against the Syrian military.

Obama is meeting with numerous foreign leaders at the summit to get their support for a Syrian strike, but he will also take time to meet with Russian gay rights groups during the two-day G-20 international summit in St. Petersburg Sept. 5.

“Obama may be too vain to acknowledge the failure of his [Russia diplomatic] reset policy, but he’s vain enough to poke a finger in Putin’s eye,” said Michael Rubin, an expert on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If Obama can score domestic political points with his core Democratic constituency, why not?” said Rubin.

Obama’s support for gay advocacy groups in Russia is also a high-profile demonstration of support to well-funded U.S. gay rights groups, who are rallying an international campaign against the new Russian anti-gay laws.

Those groups and donors are an important part of Obama’s plan to regain a Democratic majority in the House in 2014. The House’s GOP majority has proved to be a major problem Obama. For example, GOP members soon may reject Obama’s request for approval to use military forces against Syria.

Obama’s aides defended his involvement in Russia’s domestic politics.

“Given our serious concerns with some of the recent laws that have been passed and restrictions on activity for gays and lesbians within Russia, we felt it was important to ensure that we were including their voices in a discussion with the President,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s national security communications advisor, told reporters Sept 5 while flying to St. Petersburg from Sweden.