President Barack Obama's
abrupt cancellation of a face-to-face meeting in Moscow with Vladimir Putin is being portrayed as a deliberate snub of the Russian leader -- and it is.
But snub-for-snub seems likely to define relations with Putin. Recall that he snubbed Obama in May 2012 when he canceled, on short notice, a visit to the U.S. for a Group of Eight meeting that had been moved to Camp David, Md., partly to accommodate him.
Instead of going through Moscow for the Sept. 5-6 meeting of Group of 20 leaders, Obama will stop in Stockholm before going on to St. Petersburg, Russia, where, should the two men wish, which is unlikely, they will have another chance to talk privately.
The Kremlin meeting would have been largely symbolic because the two presidents had nothing to announce. Said White House press secretary Jay Carney, "Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia summit in early September."
He did not rule out a summit at a later date.
The United States has a tendency to envision itself squarely in the middle of events, but Putin seems driven by domestic Russian politics.
Sticking it to Washington is good politics among Putin's followers, and he seems to pass up no opportunity to poke the American beast -- although carefully.
Putin gave asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, although he could have done what the Chinese did and quickly shipped him elsewhere. There is no question that was an insult to Washington and the Obama administration.
Putin banned the adoption of Russian children by Americans and ended 20 years of U.S. Agency for International Development training programs. While the U.S. has been legalizing gay marriage, the Kremlin has tried to outlaw being gay, a policy the Kremlin may be forced to rethink as the 2014 Sochi, Russia, Winter Olympics approach and talk of boycotts increase.
It is important to Russia's battered pride that the Games succeed, which they won't, in Western opinion, if Putin's secret police harass gay athletes and spectators.
Putin's gratuitous insults have grown tiresome. Still, at Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels, U.S. and Russian officials seem to work well on issues like Iran, North Korea and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and these are contacts that should be developed.
At the top level, U.S.-Russian relations do not seem to need a "reset" as much as a rest. There's no rush. Putin is eligible to run again in 2018, and if he beats down the opposition as he did in 2012, we could have him around until 2024, long after the Obama administration is history.