In both Russia and the U.S., the Cold War mentality might be harder to change than originally thought.
The broken reset: Barack Obama canceled his meeting with Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the Moscow summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is the clearest sign yet of a new stagnation in U.S.-Russia relations.
Russia’s move to grant political asylum to former CIA agent and NSA contractor Edward Snowden appears to be the catalyst for Obama’s decision. However, some experts believe that other reasons lie behind the controversial decision by the U.S. to cancel the summit.
Russia Direct interviewed several international experts to find out how bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington will develop in the near future and whether or not Obama’s move will lead to a resumption of the old Cold War rhetoric.
Gregory Feifer, former Moscow correspondent, National Public Radio (NPR), and author of “The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan.”
Cancelling the summit with Putin is the right decision for the White House. It's as close as we're likely to get to a long-delayed formal acknowledgement that the reset policy isn't working and requires tweaking at the very least.
Although Obama's decision will probably be taken as a serious snub in Moscow, it's very mild compared to Putin's outright hostile actions over the last couple of years.
The conventional wisdom is that Putin takes respect on the world stage very seriously –Washington was no doubt holding out over a decision on the summit as a way of pressuring the Kremlin over Snowden. However, it's more than clear that Putin sees his perceived role as a foil to America as paramount in foreign policy.
Although Obama's decision to cancel the summit will no doubt worsen relations in the short term, it's a good first step toward a more realistic Russia policy that does more for American interests and values – and indicates that Putin's Cold War-style of foreign policy will come at a cost.
Pavel Sharikov, head of the Center for Applied Research at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences
Barack Obama’s motivations are pretty clear: Edward Snowden, who is accused by the American government of a very serious crime at the federal level, remains at-large on the territory of Russia. Obama wants to make it clear that Snowden has spoiled U.S.-Russian relations.
Remarkably, Obama canceled the meeting with Putin and, instead, booked a trip to Sweden, the country where the U.S. requested to extradite Julian Assange. This looks like a symbolic gesture.
Yes, Obama’s recent stance can be seen as resumption of the old Cold War rhetoric, but today we have a new world order, new rules. That’s why conditions of these confrontations will be also different.
We should be mindful of the political situation in the United States: in a year, shortly before the U.S. elections, Obama will become a lame duck president. He will have to save face before both Republicans and Democrats. He is under pressure now and he is trying to straddle between two camps.
His refusal to meet with Putin at the Moscow summit may bring about unpredictable consequences. We shouldn’t give up negotiation on different issues where we can find common ground. And I hope that our achievements in bilateral relations will outweigh the differences and drag us out of the blind alley.
Vladimir Yevseyev, director at the Center for Social and Political Studies
President Barack Obama failed to resist the pressure from the U.S. Congress, anti-Russian lobbyists and mass media supporting them - as well as some “hawks” on his own team. The contradictions in the Russian-American relationship have been piling up for a long period of time: the Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear program, nuclear nonproliferation, American ABM and even the situation in Afghanistan.
All this has created a blind alley. There are simply too many differences in the approaches of resolving these standoffs. Yet, it was the granting of political asylum to Snowden that was the last straw. America had no more patience. As a result, Washington’s response has been too harsh. After all, the refusal to participate in the bilateral meeting with the Russian leadership at the G20 summit is a crash of the U.S.-Russia reset. It is the crash of Obama’s endeavor that was a hallmark of his first presidential term. And it cannot be justified in any case.
On this basis, the Russian leadership has demonstrated more wisdom despite its differences with the U.S. It even demanded from Snowden to stop his anti-American activity. Yet, in the wake of anti-Russian hysteria, this stance remained unnoticed. Well, the U.S. is still not ready to collaborate with Russia. In this situation, Moscow has much more freedom in its foreign policy agenda. But will the world really become safer because of this strategy?
Gordon M. Hahn, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.
I do not think this will have long-term consequences for the U.S.-Russia relationship, and I do not think it is a sign of a new Cold War between Moscow and Washington. President Obama's decision is understandable.
There is a lack of a real crucial agenda for a Obama-Putin meeting outside the G20 meeting at this point. There are no bilateral negotiations that need a final push from the presidents to conclude an agreement. U.S.-Russian relations are unlikely to be put right at a summit at this point.
There for the gains to be made in terms of foreign and Russian relations are small, while the domestic political costs of Obama agreeing to meet Putin at this time would be high. The radical wing of the Democratic Party is outraged by Russia's LGBT policies, and the Republic Party is ready to pounce on Obama for meeting with Putin at a time when the Snowden affair, a crackdown on Russian opposition elements, and differences over Syria are the background.
Whether this is the right decision objectively is somewhat less clear, since the failure to meet continues to delay a meeting that needs to be held to stop the bleeding in the U.S.-Russian relationship. However, in terms of Obama's domestic political needs, the decision makes sense.
Through intermediaries an agreement can be fashioned and perhaps announced at the G20 or shortly thereafter that a summit will occur next year at some point.
Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics
I don’t think that Obama’s cancellation [of the meeting with Putin] is related to Snowden. It’s just a cover-up. The real reason is the stagnation in U.S.-Russia relations and, particularly, the failure to reach progress in the nonproliferation negotiations. The crux of the matter is that the Obama Administration pinned its hopes on the new arms reduction treaty and when it saw no flexibility from the Russian side – even though it proposed some compromise on ABM, it was very disappointed. As a result, Snowden has become a catalyst and a red herring, helping to disguise U.S.-Russia differences on more controversial issues.
From the beginning of [the Snowden Affair], it was pretty clear that Russia would not yield: The U.S. didn’t expect Moscow to extradite Snowden. They had been waiting for a pause to figure out if they should expect progress in the talks on nonproliferation.
Despite these tensions, we can’t see Obama’s stance as the beginning of a new Cold War. We still have a huge potential for collaboration, for example, in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet I repeat that this crisis moves our relations into a stagnation phase. Unfortunately, neither Moscow nor Washington has enough political will to tackle the standoff. There are too many unjustified expectations for the arms reduction agenda from the U.S. and a lack of flexibility from Russia.
Evgeny Minchenko, president of the International Institute for Political Expertise
Obama didn’t have any options in this situation: The U.S. has taken tough positions [toward Russia and Snowden] from the beginning. In addition, Republicans exerted a lot of pressure on Obama and accused him of being too soft on Russia.
Today, we have no reason to believe in the “reset” because its achievements have been already exhausted and we haven’t seen any new proposals. Obama proposed to reduce strategic and offensive arms and saw no progress.
[Regarding the consequences of his decision], it doesn’t affect Putin’s image in Russia. On the contrary, Putin may benefit from it and use it as a tool to reach his domestic goals given the anti-Western sentiments that are popular among the Russian elite.