New chill whistles through US-Russia relations

Vladimir Putin, right, and Barack Obama in Northern Ireland, June 2013 Body language between the two leaders at June's G8 summit told the story

Even before the Snowden affair, US-Russian relations were in trouble. The interaction and body language between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June was astoundingly tense.

After a meeting on the sidelines of the summit, the two men sat on stage for a few snapshots, silent and sullen, until they made an effort for the rolling cameras, said a few words and forced a smile or two.

Despite efforts to reset the relationship at the start of the first Obama administration, and make progress on some dossiers, the US and Russia remained far apart on issues like missile defence and nuclear arsenal reductions.

Despite acknowledged differences, they worked together on Iran and North Korea and other global issues. But they clashed very openly on Syria.

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The decision to cancel the summit is a very rare diplomatic snub but the White House made it a very public one too”

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Since the war in Syria started in March 2011, Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad and America's backing of the rebels has reawakened the worst of the Cold War dynamic between the two powers and given Moscow a proxy battleground to spite the West.

The return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency in May 2012 solidified that trend.

The White House had already been mulling whether to go ahead with the Obama-Putin summit or not. With no progress on any of the issues at stake, there would be nothing to announce after the talks, no deliverables - so why hold a meeting at the presidential level?

While Mr Putin seemed keen on the prestige of having such a meeting on his home turf, he was offering nothing in return - except another blow to the relationship.

Russia's decision to grant whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum - and the timing of the move - infuriated Washington. It became impossible for the White House to justify the summit, especially to a domestic US audience.

Mr Obama has been criticised for being too soft on Russia. He was excoriated by Republicans last year when he was caught on an open microphone telling Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to ask Mr Putin for more space, and saying that he would have more flexibility after his re-election.

Edward Snowden, centre, in Moscow. 12 July 2013 Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum angered the US

Even the New York Times chimed in on 6 August, calling on the White House to cancel the summit.

"There is no reason for Mr Obama to attend unless Mr Putin provides solid assurances that he is prepared to address contentious issues in a substantive and constructive way. Otherwise, what's the point?"

The decision to cancel the summit is a very rare diplomatic snub but the White House made it a very public one too.

When Mr Putin cancelled his visit to the US in May 2012, the White House went through all sorts of linguistic contortions to downplay the importance of his absence, insisting it was not a snub in an effort not to cause further upheaval in the relationship.

But there were no diplomatic niceties or talk about scheduling conflict to explain why the September meeting in Moscow was being cancelled. A stop in Sweden instead was immediately announced.

But during the Cold War, the US continued to talk to the Soviet Union even at the worst times. And so now too, the talks will continue, just not at the presidential level.

On Friday, the US secretaries of state and defence John Kerry and Chuck Hagel will meet their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu for previously scheduled talks in Washington.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits Daraya. 1 Aug 2013 The US is frustrated by Russia's support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

From Mr Snowden, and the reduction of nuclear arsenals, to Iran and human rights, the agenda is heavy and the onus will be on the ministers to make some progress or at least keep the relationship somewhat on track.

The only issue where there could be a tangible outcome, if the two sides want it, is on the nuclear warheads, where talks for the reduction of the active stockpile have stalled.

The biggest victim of continued fallout between Russia and the US will be Syria.

The Obama administration still believes in a political solution to the conflict, and none can be reached without Moscow. But even when they talk, Moscow and Washington are nowhere near a common vision about how to end the conflict.

In 2009 when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with a button symbolising the reset in the relationship, a translation error meant the word used in Russian actually meant ''overload''.

Four-and-a-half years later, overload now seems to be the accurate word to describe the state of US-Russian relations.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    And then you have Britain. The annoying, yapping little dog prying for attention from their US master.

    "please stroke Obama, please"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Caption competition (picture above)

    ''Everything would have been sorted by now, if only Dave had let us wear ties''

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    In the bad old days, the West imagined communist spies everywhere, but now we are all more at risk from indiscriminant American spying, to which our Govt also subscribes.

    If the USA wants global respect, they need to stop behaving like a police state where whistleblowers face severe punishment.

    Bush caused so much damage with his dumb 'Axis of Evil' comments, but Obama & Prism are almost as bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    So Obama can't face up to the fact that someone has stood up to the USA, and won't back down?

    How childish.

    Almost laughable, if it wasn't for the fact that this particular playground spat could have dire consequences for everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Obama, get real, toys out of the pram now you are not winning in Syria. I hope Al-Assad wins the alternative is another Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Keeps arms sales going though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The US is acting like a bully - again.
    The US secret service - and our GCHQ have done some pretty underhanded things and they were grassed up for doing WRONG.
    Best advice my Dad ever gave me - if you want to break the rules be prepared for the consequences if you're caught.
    Obama should be apologising not posturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    America spat the dummy out again.
    When will they realize that they revolve around the world?
    The world doesn't revolve around them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Because politicians, by their nature are childish, glory seeking muppets. By 'pretending' to be so upset by a trivial issue, they appeasing the lowest common denominator of citizenry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Just because Putin doesn't play lapdog to America, doesn't mean we are returning to the old ways. The growing threats in the world are Chinese expansion & the politicisation of Islam

    Examining disputes over Syria, many in the West find US/UK policy confused & contradictory & find the Russian line more common sense
    Rich Saudis not only finance the unrest in Syria but also global jihadists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Its about time the US grew up and accepted that they won't always get things their own way. Obama cancelling talks just because Russia let Snowdon in is ridiculous and shows what a childish leader Obama is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Oh well back to the cold war we go then

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Obama, you are the biggest disappointment. You promised something different, yet you are just like those who came before you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    8. _OhMiGod
    Not sure this has much to do with the UK and taking up space on UK news and HYS seems a little odd to me - engineering a specific type of response perhaps?
    No, advertising revenue,pure and simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    They have more in common than they realise and both country's political elites seem pretty good at locking up people that create them political embarrassment without fair process.

    Perhaps if America was a little more honest with itself & stopped being so hypocritical of others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Snowden can stand in for Obama he's a better man. Obama's spying droning will make him more of a lame duck mid terms, he should let Biden run show now
    Obama was voted in on presumption he was moral and would short US Military Industry & achieve world peace & would stop oppression of Palestinians but shorted everyone else's rights instead spying on all Everyone screws around until caught out busted

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    45 years ago Solzenitzin, who had been persecuted by the Soviets( he wrote about the Soviet Gulags) was welcomed in America. Now the table is turned. America has become a police state and Russia welcomes Snowden. Of course, Russia is not so much better. Both countries are owned by the Corporatocracy. The theatre play featured here is just to entertain the mobs. Fascism has emerged again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    On the one hand there's a protectionist, state mafia runs bunch of crooks with questionable history's and objectionable views in the modern (European) world and regressive religious views... and on the other there's Russia.

    Just makes you sigh and wish they'd both grow up after all these years. We could really do without the pair of them in a lot of ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Not sure this has much to do with the UK and taking up space on UK news and HYS seems a little odd to me - engineering a specific type of response perhaps?

    Dont care too much about this one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Who do the Americans think they are? The Master of the Universe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The "Snowden Affair" could be ended if the US tell Russia that Mr Snowden is gay. See how well that goes down!


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