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No love to Russia

Herb Boyd | 8/15/2013, 9:43 a.m. | Updated on 8/15/2013, 9:43 a.m.
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Addressing Marines at Camp Pendleton in California last Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama made no mention of Russia, President Vladimir Putin or Edward Snowden. He kept his remarks focused on the Marines with special attention to their combat successes in Afghanistan. “You were the first conventional forces in Afghanistan after 9/11,” he said, and because of them, the troop presence in that war-torn country is entering “its final chapter.”

He congratulated the troops for their courage and commitment, particularly in protecting the embassies around the world, many of which have been temporarily closed because of threats from al-Qaeda. “Like a general once said, ‘the more Marines I have around me, the better I like it,’” he smiled.

Russia, Putin and Snowden were not mentioned, but they were certainly on his mind, and there was some hint of these connected issues during his appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Tuesday night. But even then, he did not disclose all of his planned actions that came early last Wednesday, when it was announced that he wouldn’t be going to Russia to meet with Putin in St. Petersburg and participate in the G-20 summit.

“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 12 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,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, in a statement. Carney said Russia’s “disappointing decision” to grant temporary asylum to Snowden was “also a factor” in Obama’s decision.

In fact, Russia’s decision to grant the whistleblower one year of asylum was probably the critical factor in aborting the trip.

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

Not since the end of the Cold War has a U.S. president canceled a promised visit to Russia. The president had given hints of the cancellation to Leno during the half-hour interview. “There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” he said. “And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.”

Other issues that should be factored into the decision not to visit Russia are the disagreement between the U.S. and Russia on human rights, trade and commerce, and the ongoing turmoil in Syria, which is a Russian client state.