It is easy to single out any one of these issues at random and think it is driving the antagonism between Washington and Moscow, but to do so ignores almost a year of the Kremlin continuously escalating tensions with the White House on a range of issues — nuclear proliferation, Syria, human rights, democratic development, even press freedoms. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find an area of foreign policy where cooperation is improving — even on clearly shared interests like counternarcotics or fighting terrorism. Across the board, Russia is rejecting America.
It’s time we return the favor. It would send a powerful message for Obama to call for a different visit with Putin, one where he publicly condemns the Russian president at a joint press conference for his conduct, and announces a U.S. boycott of the Sochi Olympics until press freedoms are restored and American athletes won’t be subjected to the humiliations of the new anti-gay laws. It would be even better if Obama publicly described Putin as a succor of tyrants, accused him of direct complicity in the brutal carnage in Syria, and called on the Russian government to join the civilized countries of the world in looking to end, rather than prolong, the conflict. Obama should also publicly demand that Putin rejoin successful nuclear counterproliferation programs that have reduced the threat of black market nuclear sales and trafficking.
None of this will happen, of course. Despite the Kremlin’s hostile behavior toward Washington, the White House feels it must walk on egg shells around its Russian counterparts. So we’re left with a passive-aggressive meeting cancellation as a substitute for the open condemnation that must accompany Moscow’s provocations. Putin has made it clear he wants little to do with the U.S. Leaders in the U.S. should wake up to it.