With the cancellation of President Barack Obama’s meeting early next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the administration’s hoped-for political reset with the Russians has suffered a further setback. Obama canceled the planned bilateral meeting in Moscow shortly after Putin granted political asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The grant of asylum to Snowden was an aggressive, although not unexpected, move by Putin. Obama’s more passive response, while predictable, continues to feed the already-spirited debate over his foreign diplomacy and style.
There is a lot at stake in the U.S.-Russian relationship. The United States and Russia disagree on the ticking time-bomb issues in Syria and Iran. And it is clear that the two Security Council members have not made much progress on issues of arms control, trade, missile defense and human rights. These important issues beg for discussion. We are hopeful that face time between the two leaders at some point in the not-too-distant future might help move them toward agreement on these most serious international problems.
But at least for now, that isn’t going to happen. The macho Russian president believes he has more to gain at home by playing the nationalist card and by standing up to the United States. And he acts as if he doesn’t really care what the U.S. thinks, says or does. On the other hand, Obama, ever outwardly calm and cerebral, seems reluctant to confront Putin directly and prefers to assess the situation while imposing a “timeout” in the relationship before moving forward.
The issues at hand are critical to the U.S. and Russia and too much of the rest of the world. While Putin and Obama have chosen very different paths to express their leadership and to engage with one another, we urge them to find a path that leads to measurable progress on key issues and to do so soon.