Russia’s decision to grant asylum to the whistle-blower has further strained its relationship with the U.S. but both sides are trying to keep engaged
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin early next month will further sour the already strained relations between the two countries but will not altogether derail them, Russian officials and analysts said.
Moscow is going to react “very negatively” to the scrapping of the summit because it had “set great store” by Mr. Obama’s visit and put much time and effort in preparing it, said analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Kremlin-linked Council for Foreign and Defence Policies.
An unnamed Kremlin official even predicted that Mr. Obama’s refusal to meet Mr. Putin would put Russian-American relations in “cold storage.”
It is for the first time since the end of the Cold War that a summit meeting between the Russian and U.S. leaders gets cancelled.
Mr. Obama was to visit Mr. Putin in Moscow ahead of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg on September 4-5. The U.S. leader will still attend the G20 meet, but has no plans to meet Mr. Putin there one-on-one either, according to the White House.
Moscow said it was “disappointed” with the cancellation of the summit, but it came as no surprise here after the Kremlin granted asylum to U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
“The White House decision was absolutely inevitable in the light of the Snowden affair,” Mr. Lukyanov said. “The U.S. had sharply politicised this issue, making it a matter of principle [to have Snowden sent back to the U.S.]… Obama would have drawn fire at home if he went ahead with his Moscow visit.”
Washington had threatened Moscow with “consequences” if it did not turn over Mr. Snowden after he was stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport on the way from Hong Kong, purportedly to Cuba.
The Kremlin, however, refused to deport the former NSA employee charged in the U.S. with espionage for disclosing top-secret state surveillance programmes and offered him shelter in Russia.
“The Americans have pushed themselves into a corner,” a Russian diplomat told the Kommersant business daily.
At the same time, the Kremlin believes that Mr. Snowden was just a tipping point that provoked a new downturn in Russian-American ties. The “reset” launched when Mr. Obama entered the White House in 2009 has long run aground because the two countries could not agree on anything except a symbolic reduction of their nuclear arsenals.
Washington blames Moscow for showing intransigence on such issues as Syria and missile defence, whereas the Kremlin sees the root of the problem in the U.S.’s refusal to interact with Russia as an equal partner.
“This situation shows that the U.S. is still not ready to build relations with Russia on equal footing,” Mr. Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said, commenting on the annulment of the Moscow summit.
Analysts say the spat over Mr. Snowden and the cancellation of Mr. Obama’s visit to Moscow reflected a serious mismatch between the U.S. perception of Russia as a pale shadow of the Soviet Union and Russia’s view of itself as a world power.
“When the U.S. has problems in foreign policy, it tends to solve them by putting pressure on other countries. In the case of Russia, this pressure tactic has failed to work,” said Dr. Vilen Ivanov of the Institute of Social and Political Studies.
The expert does not think the no-summit will provoke a crisis in Russian-American relations.
“There will be no deep freeze. Russia will continue its constructive policy of engagement with the U.S. because we have a stake in it,” Dr. Ivanov said.
Neither Moscow nor Washington wishes to let the Snowden affair provoke a complete break in their relations. The U.S. needs Russia’s cooperation in ensuring peaceful transition in Afghanistan, preventing Syria from becoming a heaven for jihadists, and resolving the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Despite the scrapping of the summit the U.S. and Russia went ahead with a two-plus-two meeting of their foreign and defence chiefs in Washington on August 9. It was the first such meeting in six years and the sides decided to hold them annually in the future.