President Obama sent right message to Russia
Editors Baltimore Times | 8/9/2013, midnight
If President Obama’s decision to cancel a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled a refusal to engage with Russia on matters of mutual interest, we should be concerned because Russia has a veto on the U.N. Security Council and could still play a constructive role in resolving the civil war in Syria. The two countries also have unresolved bilateral issues, including further reductions in nuclear stockpiles and Russian objections to the deployment of a NATO anti-missile system in Poland and Romania.
However, it appears that the president's refusal to hold talks with Putin in Moscow next month doesn't in fact constitute a rupture in conversations between the two countries, which will continue at other levels. It's better viewed as a clear but calibrated expression of displeasure over the Russian government's granting of asylum to Edward Snowden and its growing hostility to political dissent, civil rights and the activities on Russian soil of international human-rights groups. Russia also oppresses its gay and lesbian citizens.
In announcing that Obama wouldn't engage in talks with Putin, the White House cited a lack of progress in negotiations on a variety of issues. But Obama may have offered a truer explanation of his decision to snub Putin in an interview with Jay Leno this week. “There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality," Obama said. "What I continually say to them and to President Putin, 'That's the past.'"
By "Cold War thinking," Obama was most likely referring to Putin's decision to shelter Snowden as if he were a defector from the enemy. But that's just one example; the current Russian government too often has relapsed into heavy-handedness similar to that of the Soviet Union. And a vein of xenophobia runs through policies as diverse as the Kremlin's crackdown on organizations that promote democracy to a law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American couples.
Because it doesn't end other contacts between the U.S. and Russia, cynics will say that Obama's decision to cancel the summit is political and isn’t a strong enough message to Putin. Perhaps not, but the president is entitled to register his objections to Russian conduct by actions as well as words. And this action speaks louder than anything Obama might have said to Putin at a ceremonial summit meeting.