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Sochi Winter Olympics: Vladimir Putin's Tough Guy Act Just A 'Shtick' Says Barack Obama

07/02/2014 10:10 GMT | Updated 07/02/2014 10:59 GMT

The US President and his Russian counterpart have become known for their painfully awkward-looking photo ops during bilateral meetings at various global summits.

The world leaders have often been snapped together, desolately staring straight ahead as though they want the ground to swallow them.

Now, Barack Obama has rather daringly said that Vladimir Putin's bored, tough guy act is just a "shtick" designed to boost his domestic political image.

obama putin

Awkward...

"He does have a public style where he likes to sit back and look a little bored during the course of joint interviews," the US president said in an interview with NBC, timed to coincide with the start of the Sochi Olympics.

"My sense is that's part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy."

"US politicians have a different style. We tend to smile once in a while," he added wryly.

But Obama denied his relationship with the Russian president was "icy."

He claimed the two leaders focus on issues of "mutual concern" where they can work together.

"The truth of the matter is that when we are in meetings there are a lot of exchanges, there's a surprising amount of humour, and a lot of give and take," he said.

"He's always treated me with the utmost respect."

Washington and Moscow have been at odds over the Ukraine crisis, Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russia's granting of asylum to fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

On Thursday, a recording of a private conversation between US diplomats discussing protests in Ukraine was posted on YouTube, embarrassing the United States.

The comments from Obama came as an international group of statesmen, diplomats, aid agencies and business leaders issued a dramaticplea Putin to use the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to take steps to bring peace to Syria.