We’re not overly concerned that President Barack Obama has canceled his summit meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It isn’t that there isn’t much to talk about. There’s plenty. Rather, it’s that summits ought to be occasions when something actually gets done, and there was little prospect of that. It’s hard not to wonder whether the meeting was scheduled simply because President Obama was already to be in Russia for the G-20 meetings in St. Petersburg.
There’s little doubt that President Putin’s granting of temporary asylum to Edward Snowden was the tipping point for the cancellation. That was done out of spite, not principle. But Mr. Snowden is hardly the only source of tension between the United States and Russia. Others include global security, trade, arms control and missile defense.
Yet another is President Putin’s intensifying crackdown on political dissent and civil rights, including Russia’s oppression of gays and lesbians. Although his refusal to allow Americans to adopt Russians hurts his own people more than it hurts Americans, his hostility toward respected international human-rights organizations should not go unchallenged. Granted, there are limits on what the United States can do, but President Obama’s tepid objections have been disappointing.
Russia can be useful, but it’s not accurate to call it an ally or a friend. Of late, President Putin seems to have gone out of his way to insult the United States. On that score, President Obama summed it up well when, speaking about Russia on “The Tonight Show,” he said, “There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality. “
Russia still has a veto on the U.N. Security Council, but it’s a shadow of the once mighty Soviet Union. That doesn’t mean, however, that our two nations couldn’t do considerable good if we were to cooperate more, but that would be easier if we wanted the same things or shared the same values.
In many cases, we don’t. Syria is a good example. The United States wants Bashar Assad, who’s brutalizing his citizenry with Russian weapons and the support terrorist groups like Hezbollah, ousted and replaced by a more representative government, one that will respect human rights. Russia supports Assad in large part because Assad allows Russia a port on the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s worth noting that in announcing that President Obama would not meet with President Putin, the White House statement said “… we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda.” In other words, it would be better to meet when we are at least on the same page.
Also worth noting is that although the two presidents won’t meet next month, key subordinates will. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will keep appointments with their Russian counterparts.
Perhaps their respective meetings will help in some small way to set the stage for a summit worthy of the name.