Obama snubs Putin, calls off private Moscow meeting
America's patience with Russia's decision to give asylum to the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden finally ran out today as Barack Obama cancelled a summit with Vladimir Putin.
America’s patience with Russia’s decision to give asylum to the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden finally ran out today as Barack Obama cancelled a summit with Vladimir Putin.
The high-profile diplomatic snub reflects weeks of US fury at the Kremlin for harboring the former spy but also a year of growing frustration with what Mr Obama called Russia’s “Cold War mentality”.
The White House called off the meeting in Moscow next month in protest at Russia granting Mr Snowden one-year asylum and the “lack of progress” in talks on Syria, missile defence and human rights.
“It was the unanimous view of the President and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment,” said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser.
The Kremlin said it was “disappointed” with the decision, which it said showed the US was not ready to deal with Russia “on an equal basis”.
“It is clear that the decision is linked to the situation over the employee of the American special services Snowden which was absolutely not created by us,” said Yuri Ushakov, Mr Putin’s foreign policy adviser.
Mr Obama will still travel to St Petersburg for the G20 summit with other leaders but will not make the solo trip to Moscow for a one-on-one with Mr Putin. Aides said the two men had no plans to meet on the sidelines of the G20.
Instead, the President will add a one-day trip to Sweden to his itinerary.
In an interview on The Tonight Show, Mr Obama gave an unusually frank assessment of his frosty relationship with Mr Putin and said he was “disappointed” Russia had not handed over Mr Snowden.
“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” Mr Obama said, noting that Mr Putin used to lead the successor to the KGB.
Asked about recent joint appearances, where Mr Putin has often looked glum and confrontational, Mr Obama said the Russian leader’s “preferred style” is “sitting back and not looking too excited”.
“Part of it is he’s not accustomed to having press conferences where you’ve got a bunch of reporters yelling questions at you,” Mr Obama said in a thinly-veiled barb at Mr Putin’s crackdown on media critics.
The two leaders last met in person on the sidelines of the G8 in Northern Ireland, where both sat grim-faced through a press conference and admitted wide-ranging disagreements.
Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said the White House had long sensed that the meeting would not lead to progress on Syria or US plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe.
“The calculation at the end of the day was going to Moscow would have yielded no benefit to the President’s agenda and he would have paid a political price over Snowden and human rights in Russia,” Mr Pifer told The Daily Telegraph. “Looking at the cost-benefit analysis this trip didn’t make a lot of sense.”
Russia said last night that the invitation to Mr Obama remained open. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defence, are still due to meet their Russian counterparts in Washington on Friday.
Leonid Kalashnikov, the first deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Mr Obama had been pressured into cancelling the visit.
“He did it in for the sake of certain interests in certain circles who wanted to make an elephant out of the fly called Snowden,” Mr Kalashnikov said.
Mr Obama risked further angering Russia by entering the charged debate on how the West should respond to the country’s anti-gay laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Mr Obama said, following days of pressure from US gay activists to speak out on the issue.
The following is the White House statement on the decision to cancel President Barack Obama‘s planned one-on-one meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month:
“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September. We value the achievements made with Russia in the President’s first term, including the New START Treaty, and cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. However, given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda. Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States, so on Friday, August 9, Secretaries Hagel and Kerry will meet with their Russian counterparts in a 2+2 format in Washington to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.
The President still looks forward to traveling to St. Petersburg on September 5-6 to attend the G-20 Summit.”