The Kremlin delivered a diplomatic blow to U.S.–Russian relations when Moscow granted former NSA analyst Edward Snowden a temporary political asylum. Now, the White House has cancelled a U.S.–Russia summit that was scheduled for early September, and Obama’s Russian “reset” policy is facing its moment of truth. The crisis in Syria and the Snowden affair puts Russian President Vladimir Putin in the position of strength vis-à-vis Obama—which is where Putin wants to be in relation to foreign counterparts. As in the case with the Iran sanctions, Afghanistan transit, the Tsarnaev brothers information, the arms transfers to Bashar el-Assad, it is Putin who has something that America wants, and it is the U.S. that is coming to Russia to beg. With Putin in the strong bargaining position, the White House is maneuvered into the position of weakness, looking even worse than Jimmy Carter.
Yet it comes at a price. The U.S.–Russian relations are strained as never before, and any destabilizing factor creates a serious problem. While pragmatists believe that the White House and the Kremlin have too much to lose, the damage has been already done—and is getting worse. Of course, the U.S.–Russian relations are based on pursuit of national interest. However, they are increasingly poisoned by the ideological rejection of the West and the U.S. by the Russian ruling elite. The domestic crackdown, including anti-NGO legislation, the ban on orphan adoption to the US, prosecution of political opponents – all these complicate the ability of Russia and the US to do business together.
In addition, the G-20 gathering in St. Petersburg will be another photo-op event to discuss a wide range of international economic issues. Yet, a clear focus is needed not to repeat the debates in other fora. What should the US – and especially the US Congress – do to protect America’s interests and support our friends in Russia? What should the G-20 leaders do to restore economic growth? Join us for a discussion on the upcoming G-20 summit and U.S.-Russia bilateral relations.