Snub to Putin
Had President Vladimir Putin promptly handed over whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US, the cancellation of the planned US-Russia summit ahead of September’s St Petersburg G20 summit would have been a bit embarassing for the Americans. Hardly the thing to do after a friendly gesture. In the end Putin made it easy for President Obama, whose widely reported inclination for some time has been to avoid a face to face meeting with the Russian president .
Obama has spoken of his irritation with the granting of asylum to Snowden, but noting that the decision to put off the meeting reflects “underlying challenges” in dealing with Moscow which, he said, seemed to be reverting to “Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.” The cancellation of a scheduled meeting of this kind is the first time that a US president has done so since that time.
In its statement, the White House said that it had concluded there was “not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda”, notably a lack of advances on arms control, trade, missile defence and human rights. Obama also specifically criticised Moscow’s crackdown on gay rights, an issue which has been raised in the last two days by, among others, broadcaster Stephen Fry who called for a boycott of next February’s Winter Olympics in Russia.
Bilateral issues apart, undoubtedly the biggest irritant to the Americans is Russia’s continuing support for President Bashar al Assad’s regime and its repeated thwarting in the UN of escalation of sanctions against the Syrians.
The relationship betwen the two leaders has been frosty in recent times, as the body language at their G8 meeting in Fermanagh in June testified. A rapprochment with Russia – a “reset” – had been an Obama strategic objective at the beginning of his first term, but relations have soured since 2011 although the two have been co-operating closely on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism, notably in the wake of the Boston bombing. The big picture, however, is distinctly chilly.