As world leaders gather in St. Petersburg, Russia for the G20 summit, the crisis in Syria has prompted several foreign ministers, including Canada’s John Baird, to join their countries’ delegations.

While the G20 talks will focus on global economic issues and job creation, informal discussions about Syria will be held “on the margins” of the summit, Baird told reporters Wednesday while en route to Russia.

“Obviously the crisis in Syria has become the biggest humanitarian challenge of this century and the escalation of the brutality of (President Bashar) Assad’s regime against the Syrian people is of such great concern that obviously we need to take some time to discuss how to properly address it,” he said.

CTV’s Omar Sachedina, who is covering the G20 summit, said Harper and Baird will have to contend with tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the latter of which has been supportive of the Syrian government.

“Officially, at least, (the summit) is all about the economy, about jobs, about investment and, of course, how to combat tax evasion. But the dark cloud hanging over all of this is the issue of Russia and the diplomatic dance that will take place between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Sachedina told CTV’s Power Play, before boarding Harper’s plane to Russia. 

Sachedina said Obama and Putin already have “very frosty relations” and Russia’s continued support of Assad is only making matters worse.

Putin has said that a U.S. military strike against Syria without UN approval would violate international law and be considered an act of aggression. As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia holds veto powers.

Baird said Wednesday that the Russian government’s “moral, political, material support to Assad has given him the ability to soldier on in this crisis going into its 30th month.

“I think the Russian position is – they’ve picked a lane in this battle years ago and I just don’t foresee a change.”

Among the anticipated economic discussions at the G20 are debt and deficit issues, as well as a plan to tackle international tax evasion and avoidance.

The G20 summit officially kicks off on Thursday.