Thursday, August 08, 2013

The cancelled US-Russia summit

President Obama cancelled his planned upcoming summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Stephen Walt thinks that's not a big thing in itself (Short Takes on Recent Events Foreign Policy 08/07/2013):

I can understand why the Obama administration was annoyed with Russia for not turning over Snowden, but did they really expect Moscow to passively fall in line? Would we have turned over someone who had sent similar secrets about the KGB to the Guardian and then somehow gotten themselves to Dulles Airport? I rather doubt it. The best reason to cancel the summit, however, was the fact that nothing was likely to be achieved there. [my emphasis]

Klaus Stuttmann cartoon 08.08.2013 - Putin: "If Snowden had been a Russian and had published the worldwide spying practices of the Russian secret services and had fled to the USA - would you have granted him asylum?!" Obama: "Never!! Certainly not for a scoundrel like that!!"

Fred Kaplan is on the same page (False Summits Slate 08/07/2013):

And it's worth emphasizing that the two presidents have turned the task over to their highest-ranking diplomats. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are still planning to meet in Washington this Friday with their counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu. To drive home the point that the Cold War hasn’t returned, Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, tweeted this morning (in Russian and English, something he doesn’t often do, so that followers in both countries can take note) that he’d just met with presidential aide Yuri Ushakov and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov “to discuss the full range of issues in US-Russia relations.”

In the old days, “ministerial meetings,” like the one with Kerry, Hagel, Lavrov, and Shoigu, were considered pretty big deals. This one should be, too. Have presidential summits become so commonplace that a meeting between the two countries’ top officials on foreign and defense policy is viewed as a pale substitute? If so, it’s a good idea to cut back on presidential summits.

Meanwhile, Obama has not called off plans to attend the G-20 meeting, which is taking place next month in St. Petersburg. Putin, of course, will be the host. The two will no doubt behave cordially; they might even hold a brief side session, if the ministerial meeting opens up a path or two worth exploring. In short, it’s not the end of the world; it may even mark the resumption of normal diplomacy. [my emphasis]
Julia Ioffe also thinks it's not such a bad idea, as she explains in Obama Bails on His Inevitably Awkward Date With Putin New Republic 08/07/2013:

And for all the Kremlin's pouting, there's also a consensus in Moscow that, well, there's not much left to talk about. "Obviously, Obama just can't come to Moscow with Snowden there, but they made clear they're not totally shuttering the relationship," says Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a voice that, traditionally, is not far from the Kremlin's line. "Okay, well now, the score is now 1-1, but the other problem is that the relationship has no content now. Even if Obama came to Moscow, it's not really clear what they'd talk about." Lukyanov, who wrote exactly this almost an entire month ago, elaborates: "No one is prepared to discuss a new agenda"—Asia, who gets what in the Arctic—"and the old one is totally exhausted."

In other words, the Russians aren't mad, really. They know, as the Americans know, that they've reached a dead end of sorts, a cul-de-sac.
Ioffe got scolded, though, by Larry O'Donnell on MSNBC for not being sufficiently huffy about Putin's tyrannical tyranny. She gives a spirited account of her scolding in Dear Lawrence O'Donnell, Don't Mansplain to Me About Russia New Republic 08/08/2013. While giving O'Donnell a fairly epic scolding of his own, she makes these two points (emphasis in original):

  • You can't back Putin into a corner and leave him no options. If you are a world leader worth your salt, and have a good diplomatic team working for you, you would know that. You would also know that when dealing with thugs like Putin, you know that things like this are better handled quietly. Here's the thing: Putin responds to shows of strength, but only if he has room to maneuver. You can't publicly shame him into doing something, it's not going to get a good response. Just like it would not get a good response out of Obama.
  • The Obama administration totally fucked this up. I mean, totally. Soup to nuts. Remember the spy exchange in the summer of 2010? Ten Russian sleeper agents—which is not what Snowden is—were uncovered by the FBI in the U.S. Instead of kicking up a massive, public stink over it, the Kremlin and the White House arranged for their silent transfer to Russia in exchange for four people accused in Russia of spying for the U.S. Two planes landed on the tarmac in Vienna, ten people went one way, four people went the other way, the planes flew off, and that was it. That's how this should have been done if the U.S. really wanted Snowden back.