Obama cancels Putin meetings amid Snowden tensions
Kremlin 'disappointed' with decision, which comes amid Snowden tensions; sometimes the Russians 'slip back into a Cold War mentality,' Obama says.
In a rare diplomatic snub, U.S. President Barack Obama is canceling plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month, a top White House official said Wednesday.
The move is retribution for Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who is accused of leaking highly secretive details about National Security Agency surveillance programs. It also reflects growing U.S. frustration with Russia on several issues, including missile defense and human rights.
A top White House official said Obama still plans to attend the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but has no plans to meet with Putin there one-on-one.
Obama said in an interview Tuesday that he was "disappointed" by Russia's move to grant Snowden asylum for one year. He said it also reflected the "underlying challenges" the U.S. faces in dealing with Moscow.
"There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," Obama said in an interview on NBC's "The Tonight Show."
The Kremlin, in turn, also chose to use the word "dissapointing" to express their reaction to the move, but said it remains ready to cooperate with the United States on bilateral and international issues.
Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters that Obama's decision reflected America's inability to develop relations with Moscow on an "equal basis."
At the same time, he said that the invitation to the U.S. president to visit Moscow next month still stands and added that "Russian representatives are ready to continue working together with American partners on all key issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda."
Ushakov reiterated the Kremlin's argument that Russia had no choice but to offer asylum to Snowden in the absence of a bilateral extradition agreement. Snowden has been given asylum for one year, with the possibility of extension.
"This decision is clearly linked to the situation with former agent of U.S. special services (Edward) Snowden, which hasn't been created by us," Ushakov said in a conference call with reporters.
He sought to turn the tables on the U.S., accusing it of stonewalling on Russia's proposal to sign a bilateral extradition agreement.
"For many years, the Americans have avoided signing an extradition agreement," he said. "And they have invariably responded negatively to our requests for extradition of people who committed crimes on the territory of Russia, pointing at the absence of such agreement."
Lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled Parliament were less diplomatic. "If they postpone or cancel meetings over the refusal to extradite one person, international relations will freeze," ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti. "Obama's decision is a show of disrespect to Russia."
Instead of visiting Putin in Moscow, the president will add a stop in Sweden to his early September travel itinerary.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Russia's decision last week to defy the U.S. only worsened an already troubled relationship. And with few signs that progress would be made during the Moscow summit on other agenda items, Rhodes said the president decided to cancel the talks.
"We'll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment," Rhodes said.
Obama's decision is likely to deepen the chill in the already frosty relationship between the two leaders, who have frequently found themselves at odds on pressing international issues- most recently in Syria, where the U.S. accuses Putin of helping Syrian President Bashar Assad fund a civil war.
The U.S. has also been a vocal critic of Russia's crackdown on Kremlin critics and recently sanctioned 18 Russians for human rights violations.
Moscow has accused the U.S. of installing a missile shield in Eastern Europe as a deterrent against Russia, despite American assurances that the shield is not aimed at its former Cold War foe. Putin also signed a law last year banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children, a move that was seen as retaliation for the U.S. measure that cleared the way for the human rights sanctions.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are still preparing for meetings in Washington on Friday with their Russian counterparts. Snowden's status is expected to be a main topic of conversation.
Russian transit routes are critical to the U.S. as it removes troops and equipment from Afghanistan. And the White House knows it will almost certainly need some level of Russian cooperation in order to oust Syria's Assad.
Some congressional lawmakers have called for Obama to also demand that Russia forfeit its right to host the G-20 summit. Others have spoken of boycotting next year's Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.
Senator Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that "Putin doesn't deserve the respect after what he's done with Snowden." He told CNN, "I know what he's doing. He's trying to make Russia a big power again. To show him the respect at the bilateral talks doesn't make sense."
In his interview Tuesday, Obama defended his decision to attend the G-20 summit, an annual gathering of the world's largest economies. Given the U.S. role in an increasingly interdependent global economy, Obama said it made sense to have high-level representation.
The G-20 summit is scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg on September 5-6.