President Obama will meet with several LGBT groups during his trip later this week to St. Petersburg, a move likely to ruffle Russian President Vladimir Putin after the recent passage of a series of anti-gay laws.
The president will meet with human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, legal aid NGO director Pavel Chikov, and Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization, according to a report in BuzzFeed.
The decision to meet with the activists in not unprecedented, Obama also met with human rights leaders in 2009, but comes amid a period of heightened tension with the Kremlin.
During his address on Syria from the Rose Garden on Saturday, Obama blasted the United Nations Security Council as "completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold [Syrian president Bashar] Assad accountable" — a clear swipe at Russia, which has threatened to block any resolution condemning the alleged sarin attack in the Damascus suburbs.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Secretary of State John Kerry's presentation on the attack "absolutely unconvincing" in a press conference on Monday, according to The Associated Press. He said the U.S. intelligence report included "nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals."
And Putin indicated he might send a delegation of Russian lawmakers to lobby the U.S. Congress against any military action in Syria, the Interfax news agency reported.
The skirmish over Syria comes after a summer dominated by a tussle with Putin over Edward Snowden, the former Defense contractor responsible for leaking details of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs. After more than a month in the Moscow airport, the Kremlin offered Snowden temporary asylum despite protests from the White House.
Russia has also contended with a growing movement to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi over the country's new anti-gay laws, which threaten fines and imprisonment for those who stage gay pride rallies or events.
Earlier this summer, Obama said he did not "think it's appropriate to boycott the Olympics," but said he hoped gay American athletes would win medals and change minds.
"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there," he said.