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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote

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.



This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I'm just a soldier in Army of Love
    NSA GCHQ Traitors should be ashamed of their work
    You couldn't pay me any amount of dollars to spy on citizens
    Mistry Babylon in an hour you will discover you will be burning in hells fire

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @63 Jim Squeechy
    I hope I don't regret asking ...what is mystery babylon murderers vampires?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    US has been well overindulgent with illegal wars one million dead
    overindulgent with scope of powers and illegal spying illegal droning
    scam in new world order is wars to make money from arms & contracts
    we know your schemes we know your plans in mystery babylon murderers vampires

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    What the U.S is doing is legal and authorized by the U.S. Congress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    If US Spying wasn't illegal USA Obama would have no issues with Snowdens disclosures such as spying on allies and diplomats

    US should provide full details of all spying searches and data stored on all systems. US Secret Courts are bent as Yank Covert Ops

    US is breaching International laws, Data Protection laws and Human Rights laws and still Arrogant

    How did Obama spy on Romney, Egypt, Syria

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Well the irony is that Obama canceled the summit b/c of Russia giving asylum to Snowden as Russia doesn't have extradition treaty with USA
    but Obama did not snub China or Hong Kong
    when we did have extradition treaty w/ them and they refused to give up Snowden

    If USA should have a chill with anybody it should be China
    for refusing to extradite Snowden
    when Hong Kong has a treaty with USA

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    How many Russian defectors did the US hand back? Pretty sure they would have committed the same 'crimes' as Edward Snowden.

    It's a little concerning that if a company doesn't embrace homosexuality whole heartedly the world will mobilise against it, yet the US government can ride roughshod over peoples rights and privacy and no-one gives a damn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    51.Jim Squeechy

    US Spying was totally illegal ....


    You got your wires crossed. What they are doing is totally legal and approved by the U.S. Congress. It was secret because that made it more effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Snowden was only forced to seek asylum in Russia because the US stoped him from travelling to more neutral locations by withdrawing his passport & behaving as if he was a worse threat than Osama Bin Laden!

    They always massively overract when they are made to look bad though & tried to do the same thing to Gary Mckinnon, when in reality he did them a favour.

    What a bunch of Trigger Happy Cowboys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's probably for the best they don't get on.

    I'd be more bothered if both were smiling having divided the world between them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    When Kruschev was President, buzzwords among the American poplace from Russia were, "we will destroy America from within...your people will be ruined by alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex." 50 years later this Russian prediction seems to be true; not just in America, but everywhere. These social anomalies are like Dominos...knock one, they all fall. Moral and physical abstainance is key!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Don't worry, be happy!
    Most leaders couldn't lead the way out of a wet paper bag, & the vast majority of the led have no idea what they get up to in our names. The World is a mess, who is to blame?
    The Obama & Putin the pic at the top just about says it all. I feel a chill coming on - another cold war anyone!
    The games some people play to boost their own egos at the expense of mankind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Caption competition (picture above)

    SIT UP STRAIGHT, shoulders up chests out stomachs in and smile. Now say hello nicely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    NSA should be shut down and Obama should stand down

    US Spying was totally illegal and NSA have been circumventing legal recourse tapping into wide area networks upstream

    Droning is illegal by same perpetrators NSA and GCHQ complicity

    USA is not the law and is not above the law, it is the cause of Wars and Worlds problems not the remedy

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    The U.S. didn't tap into anyone's emails or phone calls without a court order. The program has caught countless criminals and terrorists. The U.S. did log all calls made and time what? The phone company is already doing that. Wake up people. Snowden needs to go to jail now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I had thought Obama was a more politically pragmatic thinker but has shown to be a mediocrity who is deathly afraid of his political opponents at home and their schrill criticisms on just about any issue. Moreover US thinks itself Master of the Universe demanding that other powers bend to its hemogenistic will. Obama has made Snowden a personal issue with Putin and that's utterly stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    ref #45

    Using drones and supporting Israel is the right thing to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Two wrongs don't make a right.

    The behaviour of politicians comes as no surprise anymore. Just the same old, same old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Wouldn't it be great if the World were run by grown-ups.


Page 6 of 9


More US & Canada stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.