I guess this is the best we can do anymore.
Just to make this lame supposed snub a bit lamer, there’s no question that O will attend the G20 in St. Petersburg. He’s not snubbing Russia entirely, in other words, just a formal visit in the capital with Putin. Whom he’ll almost certainly be meeting with at the G20 anyway.
The White House announced the Moscow meeting in June as an extra stop on an already planned trip to St. Petersburg for the annual gathering of the Group of 20 nations. But while Mr. Obama is still committed to going to St. Petersburg, he is now rethinking the Moscow stop, not just because of the impasse over Mr. Snowden but due to a whole range of issues dividing the two countries.
A cancellation of the Moscow meeting would be seen as a direct slap at Mr. Putin, who is known to value such high-level visits as a validation of Russian prestige. While the White House may be using the meeting as leverage to win cooperation as it seeks the return to the United States of Mr. Snowden, who is now staying at Moscow’s airport, the reconsideration also reflects a broader concern that the two countries are far apart on issues like Syria, Iran, arms control and missile defense.
The White House has not publicly confirmed the prospect of scrubbing the Moscow meeting, but has sent unmistakable signals that it is now on the table. Asked directly on Wednesday if Mr. Obama is still going to Moscow before the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to say. “I can say that the president intends to travel to Russia for the G-20 summit,” Mr. Carney said. “I don’t have anything to add to what we’ve said in the past about that trip.”
Maybe the goal here is less a snub for snub’s sake than making Putin squirm a bit over his public pronouncements that Snowden mustn’t do anything to harm U.S.-Russia relations, as if Russian aid to Assad and nuclear cooperation with Tehran hasn’t done that already. He’s trying to dress up his big propaganda windfall as responsible statesmanship; if the White House cancels its visit to Moscow, then that becomes a marginally harder sale. But what does Putin care at this point? If he’s looking for “validations of Russian prestige,” America’s impotence in getting him to hand Snowden over and Obama’s obligation to attend the G20 on Russian soil anyway are better than a photo op with O at the Kremlin. Frankly, if I were Putin, I’d retaliate by arranging some sort of photo op with Snowden instead. I’m sure Snowden would be game. He is, after all, the man who recently cooed:
Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression [by the U.S.], countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.
Russia and Venezuela, the vanguard of international human rights. What better way to “extend his personal thanks” to Putin for being a gracious host than by smiling for the cameras with him in response to a White House snub? The whole thrust of his NSA leaking over the past month or so, after the initial PRISM disclosures, has been to embarrass the U.S. by reminding people in other countries that our foreign intelligence apparatus actually does collect intelligence overseas. A joint middle finger to Washington with Putin would be the cherry on the embarrassment sundae.
Incidentally, if that does end up happening, the State Department should reply by clarifying that they didn’t skip the Moscow visit in protest over Snowden, they skipped it in protest of Alexei Navalny, one of Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, being thrown in prison on an obviously political embezzlement charge. If Putin wants to make Snowden some sort of international civil-rights cause celebre, use U.S. media power to give Navalny the same treatment. Make sure people understand who Snowden’s new best friend really is.
Speaking of lame snubs, here’s Lindsey Graham urging America to rethink its participation at the Sochi Olympics, which won’t do anything to get Snowden back but will deprive U.S. athletes of the chance to embarrass the Russians at home.