By canceling the Moscow summit, President Obama solves a growing number of domestic and foreign policy concerns.
The cancellation of the meeting with Putin: What's next? Photo: AFP
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision not to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, makes good political sense domestically and internationally. However, in many ways, it puts off some more fundamental choices that Washington is going to have to make in the coming months.
Moscow’s decision to offer asylum to Edward Snowden played a major role and, indeed, is likely to be cited on background by Obama Administration officials as the reason for the decision. But Russia’s new law against homosexual propaganda and the Russian court decision this week against a Jewish activist have touched raw nerves in two segments of Obama’s domestic constituency. Had President Obama met with Putin under these circumstances, he would have paid a price at home, something he clearly is loath to do.
However, this is just one step on the longer road to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled for next February. Ever more people in the West are now raising the possibility of a boycott of that event or, alternatively, of using the Olympic Games as the occasion for a pro-LGBT demonstration in support of the beleaguered gay community of the Russian Federation. Right now, the balance seems to be in favor of the latter rather than the former. However, if there are increasing indications of a recrudescence of anti-Semitism as well as anti-gay attitudes in Russia, President Obama will have to decide what to do.
The American president would clearly like to work with Moscow, despite these problems. But for both domestic reasons – his own constituency – and international ones – the demands of the Europeans and the Canadians in particular – Obama will not have the luxury of a completely independent decision. And if that is obvious already, so too are some of the obvious possible Russian responses.
Russian President Putin may decide to respond by providing even more support to Syrian President Assad or to the Iranian government with which Moscow has a much closer relationship than do Western governments. Moreover, he may decide that Western opposition to his policies is the best way of gaining support among Russians beyond Moscow’s Ring Road, if not within it. And it cannot be excluded that a new Russian crackdown may spark violence or a terrorist incident which could be a game changer.
In short, while many are likely to view President Obama’s decision now as a turning point, in fact, it represents the minimum he could do for both domestic and foreign reasons. But it does open a new era of Russian-American relations, one that is likely to be both far rockier and, like Putin’s Russia now, far less predictable.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.