U.S. President Barack Obama onWednesday canceled anupcoming meeting with PresidentVladimir Putininthe latest sign ofsouring relations between thetwo countries, days after NSA leaker Edward Snowden was granted asylum andas theinternational outcry against Russia's anti-gay propaganda law gains momentum.
While analysts worldwide are likely questioning whether recent anti-Russia sentiment inthe West played apart inObama's decision, theWhite House cited several reasons forthe meeting's postponement— including Russia's decision togrant NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum andthe recently passed anti-gay propanda law.
But apart fromthe two most high-profile issues, theU.S. also cited alack ofprogress ina range ofdifferent areas.
"Given our lack ofprogress onissues such as missile defense andarms control, trade andcommercial relations, global security issues, andhuman rights andcivil society inthe last twelve months, we have informed theRussian Government that we believe it would be more constructive topostpone thesummit until we have more results fromour shared agenda," theWhite House's spokesman Jay Carney said ina statement.
Russia was quick toexpress disappointment, with Putin's foreign affairs aide Yury Ushakov placing theblame onthe American side: "This whole problem highlights thefact that theU.S. is not ready tobuild relations onan equal basis," he said.
"For many years, theAmericans have shied away fromsigning abilateral agreement onextradition," he said, referring tothe scandal over Russia's refusal toextradite Snowden.
Theabsence ofan extradition agreement was cited as themain reason why Russia could not send Snowden back tothe U.S. toface justice. Ina recent interview with theMSNBC news network, however, Obama dismissed this explanation, saying theU.S. had sent back fugitives sought byRussia many times.
Russia-U.S. relations have been deteriorating rapidly inrecent months, with theparties unable toagree ona wide array ofissues, including ways toresolve theSyria crisis, Iran's nuclear program, andthe further reduction ofthe two countries' ballistic missile inventories.
Thedaylong bilateral summit, scheduled tofollow theGroup of20 meeting inSt. Petersburg, was anticipated as anopportunity toresolve these issues.
Yet it seems that other issues have overshadowed matters offoreign affairs, andboth aspects seem tohave played apart inObama's decision.
According toMaria Lipman, scholar inresidence atCarnegie Moscow Center, it is precisely theevents happening intoday's Russia that have shaped its foreign policy andaffected its reputation.
"Internal politics largely defines foreign policy both inRussia andthe U.S. Inthe last year, shifts inthe internal situation inRussia have significantly affected thecountry's position abroad," Lipman said.
Obama's decision topostpone themeeting also came inthe midst ofa heated campaign inthe West toboycott "all things Russian," including theupcoming Winter Olympic Games inSochi, toprotest new legislation banning homosexual propaganda among minors inRussia.
Several celebrities, activists andwell-known figures have spoken out against thelegislation since it was signed intolaw inJune.
Most recently, onWednesday, English writer andactor Stephen Fry posted apublic statement calling onthe International Olympic Committee andBritish Prime Minister David Cameron toimpose "an absolute ban onthe Russian Winter Olympics of2014," comparing Putin toAdolf Hitler.
"He [Putin] is making scapegoats ofgay people, just as Hitler did Jews," he said.
Fry's statements seem tohave made animpact. Half anhour after they were posted, his website was down because theserver was overloaded with too many visitors.
Human Rights Watch, awell-known human rights organization that has been critical ofmany aspects ofthe Sochi Games, has cautioned against aboycott, however, saying that large-scale events like theOlympic Games expose many issues that need tobe addressed inRussia.
"The Sochi Games are not just about Sochi, they are about all thehuman rights issues intoday's Russia. We believe that this is agreat chance toexpose current difficulties, andwe are already witnessing that happening," said Tanya Lokshina, HRW's Russia researcher.
Lokshina's words are supported bydozens ofarticles inthe Western press inrecent weeks shining thespotlight onissues ofgay rights inRussia.
Incidentally, theNew York Times posted aneditorial onTuesday calling forObama's summit with Putin tobe cancelled, justifying themove bysaying that "Mr. Putin is arepressive andarrogant leader who treats his people with contempt, as therecent crackdown ongays andlesbians demonstrates."