A high-five between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit seems to capture a moment.

It has been interpreted as "like" recognising "like". The pair, accused of ordering opponents' deaths on foreign soil and dealing harshly with dissidents at home, are virtually untouchable. They can weather international disapproval owing to domestic autocratic power and geopolitical influence.

Last week the US Congress showed a willingness to scrap with Saudi Arabia and the White House over US ties to the kingdom, the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.

A bipartisan measure to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war was advanced in the Senate by a vote of 63 to 37. Ultimately, the resolution would have to get through the full Senate and House. It is a signal of disapproval with Riyadh - and perhaps of new restiveness towards President Donald Trump among Republicans in Congress.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, high fives Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Photo / @cspan
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, high fives Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Photo / @cspan

Republican senator Lindsey Graham retweeted the Putin, Mohammed video clip with: "Birds of a feather ... One 'positive' after this display of affection - the vote total is going up in the Senate to pass MBS sanctions legislation."

Yet, with the Trump Administration's public support in his pocket, Mohammed tours countries, greets leaders and attends the G20 on his path to rehabilitation.

Putin is used to attending such gatherings as a pariah, but a necessary presence.

Russia's handling of its sea spat with Ukraine - firing on and seizing ships and putting sailors on trial - shows it has no fear of consequences when it acts rogue. It helps that the US is preoccupied with trade and domestic issues; the EU with Brexit.

There are several possible reasons why this incident has occurred now, including dipping popularity for Putin at home and an upcoming presidential election in Ukraine. But Putin has effectively re-enforced the message that there's only one boss in Russia's sphere of influence.

Putin also dominated the news over the weekend as the Russia probe crept closer to Trump.

As several US journalists have pointed out, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is weaving a narrative, through legal documents, about Trump associates' possible links to Russia and WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It's essentially a Russia probe report as we go along. It's a way of getting information out as insurance in case Trump moves against the Russia probe.

On Friday, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress when he said that a Trump Tower Moscow project, which required Kremlin approval, was not pursued after January 2016. Cohen says secret efforts continued until June 14, 2016 - throughout the Republican primaries. He claims to have briefed Trump and members of the Trump family about progress.


Mueller and Cohen have a co-operation agreement.

Mueller hasn't pinned anything directly to Trump yet, but is including him in the big picture.