It was a tough year for global events. From serious conflicts in Syria and Ukraine to the Ebola outbreak and the apparent destruction of not one but two Malaysia Air passenger planes, it sometimes felt like the world was bouncing from one horror to the other, never quite able to comprehend any of them.
It was also, however, a year where the world's leaders frequently found themselves in absurd, awkward situations. These situations were often photographed. And thankfully in the modern media world, these images spread.
Over a tough year, awkward photographs of world leaders have provided levity. As such, we think its time to look back back at them. Here's 2014, as told by awkward photographs of world leaders.
(Please note: This post has been updated with reader suggestions at the end.)
1. Putin awkwardly rubbing Obama's back
November's APEC meeting was awkward for a whole variety of reasons, and it led to a whole smorgasbord of awkward world leader photographs. Perhaps none was quite as ridiculous as that moment when Russian President Vladimir Putin patted President Obama on the back.
The two had been at loggerheads over the situation in Ukraine for the best part of the year and U.S.-led sanctions were beginning to show their effects.
Was Putin attempting to show he was the alpha male here? Full video of the moment paints a more complicated picture, with Putin's tap on the back perhaps seeming more friendly than the picture shows. Given the pain inflicted on the Russian economy this week, maybe he knew that things were about to take a turn for the worse.
2. David Cameron on the phone
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 5, 2014
The Ukraine crisis made things awkward for a lot of people. For instance, when British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to show he was a part of the situation by tweeting a picture of him on the phone, he was widely mocked. Not only was it seen as a rather desperate attempt to prove the "special relationship" with the United States was still there, it looked a little silly given how the British government had courted Russian oligarchs.
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) March 5, 2014
— Patrick Stewart (@SirPatStew) March 5, 2014
3. That time the Swiss president was greeted with a Danish flag in Ukraine
When Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, acting head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), traveled to Kiev for a meeting in Paril, he was greeted by an unexpected sight: The Danish flag. The Swiss press wasn't too pleased: The newspaper Aargauer Zeitung wrote that the flag mix-up was "Peinlich" (embarrassing), while Basler Zeitung wrote that Burkhalter had been greeted with a "false flag."
4. The uncomfortable body language of John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov
Back in the first quarter of the year, the Russian annexation of Crimea led to lots of talks for top-level Russian and U.S. leaders in a variety of locations. Judging from the pictures, these meetings swiftly became uncomfortable. Here, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John F. Kerry are shown in London back in March. It doesn't look friendly.
Lavrov and Kerry. Hope they will be back pic.twitter.com/ZXDFNSCzhE
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) March 14, 2014
Break is over. Match continues. pic.twitter.com/C3Dmf4rq2D
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) March 14, 2014
5. Xi and Abe's uncontainable excitement at finally meeting
Some world leaders made friends in 2014. The APEC summit was, for instance, the first time that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on official terms. However, their grumpy demeanor suggests that perhaps their meeting, like China-Japan relations on the whole, was a little frosty.
6. Hollande's trip to Kazakhstan
— 20 Minutes (@20Minutes) December 6, 2014
French President Francois Hollande was also making friends during a trip to Kazakhstan in December. However, after President Nursultan Nazarbayev posted a picture of him in traditional Kazakh clothing on his Instagram, the trip went viral. Given that Hollande has, over the course of 2014, become the least popular French leader of all time (around 13 percent approval ratings in November), it wasn't a good look.
— Ulysse Paris (@ulyssepariser) December 7, 2014
7. Abbott and Abe show off their boots
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) July 9, 2014
Japan's Abe also found time to go hang out with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Australia, where they visited Rio Tinto's West Angelas mine. Ostensibly, the visit was to underscore the importance of Australian iron ore for Japan, but it ended up making headlines for another reason: A "cringe-worthy" photo tweeted by Abbott designed to show off the pair's Australian-made RM Williams boots.
8. Modi's warm welcome in Australia
Amazing welcome in Sydney. Glad to be here. pic.twitter.com/6sv2kmz8dh
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 17, 2014
The Indian prime minister was in Australia in November, marking what he later described as a new era in relations between the two nations, following a 2009 period which saw Indian students in Australia being attacked. Modi was given a lavish welcome by Australia, including a performance from aboriginal dancers which he later said was "amazing."
9. Putin's bromance with Sissi ...
Putin, despite isolation in the West, made some new friends too. For instance, when new Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi came to visit Sochi, Russia, in August, they wore matching sunglasses and ties.
10 ... and Erdogan ...
Then at the start of December, as things took a turn for the worst, he went and hung out with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a man who often appears to be following his blueprint.
11. .... and Modi.
Putin's burgeoning relationship with the Indian prime minister may be the most telling of the Russian prime minister's bromances: As The Post's Annie Gowen notes, Modi may well hold the power in this relationship.
12. Merkel laughing
One of the few world leaders to have a pretty good 2014 was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who became the longest serving head of government in the European Union and was called the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. And, despite the somewhat dour portrait of her painted by a lengthy New Yorker profile, she evidently had reason to laugh.
13. Kim Jong Un's triumphant return
At last, a new bizarre Kim Jong Un photo pic.twitter.com/Id13EESvYT
— Adam Taylor (@mradamtaylor) October 27, 2014
For the first part of the year, the North Korean leader was up to his usual tricks: Visiting lubrication factories or riding in antique submarines, for example. Then, as summer came to an end, something weird happened. Kim disappeared from public view. Wild theories began to spring up, including but not limited to some kind of coup or a cheese addiction. It was an international mystery.
Soon, however, he reappeared, better than ever. And with a propaganda photograph of him touring an orphanage, he was back to his bizarre ways.
Kim's bizarre disappearance and return was, yet again, another sign of just how little we know about North Korea. And with Wednesday's announcement that the U.S. government believes Pyongyang was behind a hack on Sony Pictures with dramatic consequences, that may be a problem.
14. Pope Francis and his pellegrina
Merkel may have had a good year, but there was probably no world leader more beloved on earth this year than Pope Francis. As if to prove that he ruled 2014, he even played a key role in talks to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. If there was one thing that the pope could not win over in 2014, however, it was his pellegrina, which repeatedly refused to stay put on several occasions this year.
BONUS: Some suggestions from readers for awkward moments we missed.
That time former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went to visit Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in hospital
When Khameni was in the hospital, he had a visit from an apparently unwelcome guest. As WorldViews noted at the time, it appeared to be a rare visible sign of Iran's ever-fractious politics.
The Nigerian president's poor choice for a campaign slogan.
Jonathan Goodluck's apparent decision to co-opt the #BringBackOurGirls movement for his own reelection slogan soon backfired.
An extremely awkward handshake between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Chinese Premier Li Kequing
Mugabve is just one African leader being courted by the Chinese government, but his handshake may well be the most awkward.
When Modi read a pamphlet during a speech by his Pakistani counterpart
The awkward interaction between the Indian prime minister and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif in November was noted by NDTV at the time:
First, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif totally ignored his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after entering the podium to take his seat. He did not look at Mr Modi and proceeded straight to his seat.
When it was time for Mr Sharif's address and other leaders greeted him with applause, PM Modi was seen busy reading a booklet on SAARC.
When French President Francois Hollande looked the wrong way
— Ieuan Berry (@Ieuanb123) November 7, 2014
During the NATO summit in Wales in September, Hollande seemed to miss the planes during a fly-past. Given Hollande's other problems this year, sight of him looking the one way while his peers looked another seemed grimly symbolic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin draping his coat over China's first lady
While there were few good photographs of this moment, it seems appropriate to include video of what was no doubt the most awkward act by a world leader in 2014: A moment of gallantry from the Russian president that sent China's state censors into overdrive.