Statement by the Press Secretary on the President’s Travel to Russia

Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September. We value the achievements made with Russia in the President’s first term, including the New START Treaty, and cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. However, given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda. Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.

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The Kremlin expressed disappointment, especially with the president’s linking of the decision to the case of Mr. Snowden. A senior aide to Mr. Putin, Yuri V. Ushakov, said that Mr. Obama was still welcome to visit, but blamed the United States for not wanting to build a stronger partnership to manage bilateral and international issues.

“This very problem underlines the fact that the United States is still not ready to build relations on an equal basis,” Mr. Ushakov told reporters at the Kremlin, according to the Interfax news agency…

“The president clearly made the right decision,” [Chuck] Schumer said. “President Putin is acting like a schoolyard bully and doesn’t deserve the respect a bilateral summit would have accorded him.”

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“The question the White House has been asking is not about whether Russia is going to give us anything on Snowden … but what will come out of a summit in Moscow that will be useful to the president’s agenda on arms control, missile defense and our economic relationship,” said Steven Pifer, a longtime U.S. diplomat who served in Russia, Ukraine and at the White House. “What I’m hearing from administration officials is that over the last month they’ve had no resonance, no response back from the Russians.”…

Gati also said such a meeting would have exposed Obama to potential embarrassment.

“Imagine this scenario: the president is in a meeting with Putin and Snowden appears on TV or at the Bolshoi with Anna Chapman at his side,” Gati said, referring to a Russian spy expelled from the United States in 2010…

Some experts say the cancellation reflects a new reality that U.S.-Russia experts may be reluctant to confront: The relationship isn’t so pivotal any more.

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And for all the Kremlin’s pouting, there’s also a consensus in Moscow that, well, there’s not much left to talk about. “Obviously, Obama just can’t come to Moscow with Snowden there, but they made clear they’re not totally shuttering the relationship,” says Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a voice that, traditionally, is not far from the Kremlin’s line. “Okay, well now, the score is now 1-1, but the other problem is that the relationship has no content now. Even if Obama came to Moscow, it’s not really clear what they’d talk about.” Lukyanov, who wrote exactly this almost an entire month ago, elaborates: “No one is prepared to discuss a new agenda”—Asia, who gets what in the Arctic—”and the old one is totally exhausted.”

In other words, the Russians aren’t mad, really. They know, as the Americans know, that they’ve reached a dead end of sorts, a cul-de-sac. The question now is, how do they get out of it? And, then where do they go, and how? Given that both governments have other priorities at the moment, and that both have realized that they don’t really need each other, it seems the answers to those questions won’t become apparent for a while.

And this, 22 years after the end of the Cold War, is the recalibration we’ve been waiting for.

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“Our relationship with Russia has been a roller coaster ride at times,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an interview on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”…

Psaki was the press secretary for Obama’s re-election campaign, and mocked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he said Russia “is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.”

It appears Romney may have had a point, while Russia may not be enemy No. 1, it has recently acted as a geopolitical foe.

Secretary of State John Kerry “is still meeting with his counterpart on Friday, because it is such an important relationship,” said Psaki. “Secretary Kerry is hoping to continue the conversation, issues where we agree, issues where we disagree … on Friday. And maybe there will be a summit in the future, but it wasn’t the time to do it in September.”

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The president could stress the absurdity of granting Snowden asylum by insisting on visiting Putin’s strongest adversary, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison on trumped up charges. He could invite Alexei Navalny to his hotel room and invite the press to hear about the anti-corruption campaigner’s experience in Russian prisons and why he thinks a Russian Spring is on the way. He could arrange a photo opportunity with the green campaigner Yevgeniya Chirikova, and dozens of other activists who are targeted by Putin’s secret police. He could welcome a group of gay Russians to talk about the laws that persecute them and to warn the world about the rights they will have to forego if they attend the Winter Olympics.

The president could do worse than give a keynote speech in St. Petersburg on human rights, and the abuse of democratic freedoms by spies posing as whistleblowers, rekindling the memory of the great generation of Soviet dissidents, Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, and inviting today’s Russian dissidents to sit in the front row. He could make a fuss of the veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva and the president-in-waiting Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster strong-armed out of challenging Putin for the presidency. He might play mood music before his talk by Pussy Riot, two of whom remain in jail for daring to sing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral and have just had their parole turned down.

There is a lot Obama can do if he really wants to live up to Reagan’s example. But does he have the Gipper’s genius for turning the tables on his opponents? If he does push back against Putin, he will win the admiration of Americans way beyond his own party and will increase his chances of advancing his agenda. He should be bold, like he was when he ordered Operation Neptune Spear that ended the life of Osama bin Laden.

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President Obama prides himself on being cool, calm, and collected. But his latest move—cancelling a summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin—suggests that he is having a hissy fit, succumbing to peevishness. It’s wholly counterproductive. In attempting to cow Russia into releasing Edward Snowden, he isn’t showcasing American power but its limitations. The more Obama seeks to challenge Putin, the stiffer Russian resistance will become. Obama’s persecution of Snowden is singlehandedly transforming him into a Russian hero…

When it comes to Snowden, it is America, not Russia, that is behaving as though the frostiest days of the cold war continued to prevail. It seems clear that Snowden has become an obsession with Obama. WIth no one listening to Obama at home, perhaps he felt that this was the one arena where he could flex his muscles. If so, he had it wrong. Obama initially declared that the presidency was bigger than Snowden. If only he had believed what he said. Instead, he has transformed Snowden into a dissident who has found refuge in, of all places, Russia.

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Via Legal Insurrection.

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