Obama’s Moscow summit misstep

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Obama’s Moscow summit misstep
Published 18-08-2013, 16:15
White House press secretary Jay Carney mentioned several reasons for canceling President Obama’s scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, including the "lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months.” However, it was the Edward Snowden affair that was a dominating factor for making this obviously mistaken decision of historical proportions.

All the reasons given by the White House were known before and during the scheduling this summit, so the only new factor was Mr. Snowden. No smoke screen and embarrassing excuses can hide this fact. Even Mr. Putin’s continuing support of President Bashar Assad of Syria was not a problem during the diplomatic work in preparations for the summit.

Although some strange bedfellows such as Sens. Charles E. Schumer, John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others are praising Mr. Obama for depriving Mr. Putin of a high-profile moment on the world stage, Washington’s unheard-of extravaganza may hurt U.S. interests in the long run. This is a senseless humiliation of an important international player who already helped America many times in the past and whose help in different parts of the world we would definitely need in the future.

As far as I recall, this is the first time a U.S. president has canceled a publicly announced summit since the end of the Cold War and regrettably, the American position does not look like it stands on the high moral ground.

Most likely, Mr. Obama could not withstand the pressure from U.S. "Cold Warriors,” for whom Pat Buchanan found an elegant term, "McCainiacs,” and the media, which almost unanimously blamed Mr. Obama for his spineless Russia policy. They kept constantly demanding outright that anti-Putin rhetoric be toughened because of Russia’s backsliding on democracy, and they urged Mr. Obama to support the political opposition and its latest addition — the homosexual community — which is mercilessly persecuted by Putin regime.

In this black-and-white world, the situation around Mr. Snowden — a fugitive whistleblower to some Americans and Europeans, but a traitor to others — just does not fit the generally accepted scheme. U.S. public opinion is almost equally divided, but the media and many U.S. conservatives are leaning more toward the whistleblower definition. Thus, there is this challenging conundrum: Why would a brave fighter for the observance of U.S. Constitution choose to seek asylum in that dreadful Mr. Putin’s Russia? Even on Syria, it looks like Mr. Putin’s views on the rebels are not too far distant from that of conservatives, who think that Obama administration policy toward Syria is a slow train wreck.

Rep. Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Republican, thinks Mr. Snowden is a traitor — despite the fact that he acted to uphold the American people’s "right to know” about the surveillance programs. He’s a traitor, says Mr. Perry in his "Voice of Russia” interview, because he "informed foreign journalists about the [National Security Agency] misdemeanors instead of revealing that information congressionally.”

Forty years ago, Soviet authorities brought the same accusation against the "gulag whistleblower” Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In fact, Leonid Brezhnev and his Politburo cronies did not deny that what Solzhenitsyn wrote in his book "The Gulag Archipelago” was true. They just regretted the fact that Solzhenitsyn, then a Soviet citizen, did not use home channels for his revelations. It looks like history repeats itself, with U.S. congressman repeating, nearly word for word, the phraseology of Soviet Politburo rulers.

Whether we call Mr. Snowden a traitor or hero, we must acknowledge that this unfortunate affair was not initiated by Russia, but by a National Security Agency employee. There are plenty of KGB or FSB defectors in the United States, and the Russians never used this as an excuse to cancel the summits or even routine bilateral meetings.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama did not take a high road in this sad affair, but the suspense still continues. Let us see if Mr. Putin gives Mr. Obama a lesson and takes the high road by not snubbing the president in the upcoming Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg.

It is ironic that Mr. Obama confirmed this trip on Jay Leno’s "Tonight Show.” Is that the best venue for the Washington foreign policy these days?

The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Edward Lozansky,

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of World Politics at Moscow Sate University


Expert Panel Contributions

Martin Sieff

Martin Sieff is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow and Chief Global Analyst at The Globalist. His most recent book isThat Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs

Disastrous Decision to Scrap the Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap his planned summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is arguably the worst and most dangerous mistake the American leader has made in his four and a half years in the White House.

The direct reason for the move was the decision of the Russian government to allow former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden to stay in Russia for at least a year. However, this reflects an abysmal ignorance of the traditions of managing the superpower relationship even during the most-tense eras of the Cold War.

There have always been defectors from the Soviet Union and Russia to the United States and from America to the Soviet Union and Russia. But this fact of espionage has never been allowed to intrude by either side on the scheduling and holding of bilateral summits essential to maintaining fundamental trust between the two dominant thermonuclear powers on the planet. Never before, from the first U.S.-Soviet postwar summit at Geneva in 1955 through the eras of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did any U.S. president seek to scrap any summit meeting with any Soviet or Russian leaders because of any spy scandal. Only Nikita Khrushchev did that when he torpedoed the 1960 Paris summit after a U.S U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev actually stepped up his schedule of summit meetings with President Ronald Reagan even after KGB Col. Oleg Gordievsky, a vastly more important figure than Snowden, defected to British intelligence in 1985 after 11 years as a double-agent.

Obama’s decision to scrap the Moscow summit was contradictory, puzzling and self-destructive: He took the advice, and yielded to the pressure of the Russia-hating Know Nothings and neo-conservatives in the Republican Party. These are the very people who hate the president most and who try to deny him his every genuine achievement. He will get no thanks for listening to them now.

Hostile Republican critics repeatedly try to slander President Obama as a pathetic wimp who cannot be trusted to be left alone in a room with Vladimir Putin. By refusing to go to Moscow, Obama has surrendered to this contemptible and hitherto entirely false image.

Good relations between U.S. and Russian presidents have been the norm over the past 12 years. George W. Bush and Putin enjoyed a genuine friendship and mutual respect that served both their countries well. Obama and Dmitri Medvedev enjoyed a similar liking and rapport. This led to the real achievement of the latest START strategic arms reduction treaty.

Personal relations between Obama and Putin have always been poor and have recently deteriorated: But that is no excuse for the American side to give up the effort. Putin has risked major criticism at home and abroad – especially across the Middle East – for maintaining the Northern Corridor by which the U.S. Air Force regularly overflies Russia to supply ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Had the U.S. security authorities taken the warnings of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) seriously in 2011 to extradite Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombings would never have happened.

The argument that there is no area where the United States and Russia can or should cooperate any more is spurious. U.S. policymakers need to wake up to the major role of Islamist extremists in the so-called democratic opposition in Syria md to their growing slaughter of ancient Christian communities there. They need to offer to genuinely work with Russia to find a formula and security structures for a ceasefire in the conflict. Russia also shares America’s preference for a moderate military government in Egypt that will not threaten the six million-strong Coptic Christian community there.

America still needs to use the Northern Corridor over Russia to Afghanistan. There is plenty of room for more cuts in U.S. missile defense programs, especially as the main Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptor (GBI) system has not managed a single successful interception test in the past five years. And there is vast opportunity for U.S. investment in Russia that would benefit both countries. The U.S. and Russia would also benefit from working together to stabilize global oil and gas production and pricing, sectors which they increasingly dominate.

Instead, Barack Obama has listened to his greatest enemies: Now, they will despise him even more. This most thoughtful and reserved of recent American presidents restored the tattered dignity of the office after the self-indulgent escapades of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Yet now he has allowed himself to look petty, petulant and childish. As a result, U.S.-Russian relations will go into the dangerous spiral that thoughtful observers have feared for so long.

Vladislav Krasnov

Vladislav Krasnov, Ph.D., former professor and head of Russian Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, now lives in Washington where he runs Russia & America Goodwil lAssociation (RAGA).

To Defect or to Integrate? Edward Snowden's Dilemma 

Russia’s granting asylum to Edward Snowden is not just a milestone in US-Russia relations. It is a mene tekel of "How the United States is Repeating the Mistakes that Destroyed the Soviet Union”.

Russia Experts Panel discussed on the initiative of Martin Sieff of The Globalist at its inception a year ago. The Panel members refuse to yield to the russophobia of US mass media as they offer dissident views of world affairs.

Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet nuclear scientist and dissident who broke with the USSR by settling in the USA with his family in spite of Soviet threats and annoyance.

writes about US vs Snowden: "Forty years ago, Soviet authorities brought the same accusation against the "gulag whistleblower” Alexander Solzhenitsyn".

"Will there be a time… when the White House and Congress will forgive (Edward) Snowden …and change their attitude toward him (as) the Russian authorities changed their attitude toward Solzhenitsyn?”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was the Nobel Prize winning Russian novelist expelled from the USSR for describing it as an ideological expansionist state. While professing its love for "peaceful co-existence” with "capitalist” countries, Soviet government did everything to undermine them. At home it refused to co-exist even with its own dissenting citizens.

As a former Soviet defector and the author of Soviet Defectors: The KGB Wanted List, I wanted my native Russia, as well as my adoptive country, prosper in liberty, peace, and universal respect. Alas, since the collapse of Communism, the USA yielded to hubris of triumphalism and set itself on a course that is contrary to the precepts of its Constitution.

Snowden is not a Solzhenitsyn. But he is a man of conscience. His concern for the health of his country drove him to do what he did. No wonder, about half of American people admire him as a hero.

My research on Soviet defectors has shown that overwhelming majority abandoned their country, at a huge personal risk and for uncertain future, as a matter of conscience. They wanted to think for themselves, not bend their conscience to the dictate of the All-Mighty State and its Global Communism Ambition.

Among the hundreds assembled in my book, several defectors testified that, in making their fatal decision, whether it involved military intelligence or not, they were guided by conscience. In fact, one of them, Nikolai Khokhlov (1922-2007), wrote a book titled In the Name of ConscienceПраво на совесть»).

A trained NKVD officer, Khokhlov proved his bravery and patriotism in a guerrilla team assassination of a Nazi governor of Belorus. But in 1954 Khokhlov balked at the order to assassinate an expatriate Russian in Berlin. He knew his refusal could be fatal, and defected to become US citizen and psychology professor. After the fall of the USSR, Presdent Boris Yeltsin pardoned him and he was allowed to return to Russia.

Soviet government’s failure to accommodate different worldviews inside the USSR resulted in a hemorrhage of talented and patriotic Russians. Some of them, most notably Solzhenitsyn whose books were best-sellers in the West, greatly contributed to the preservation of peace and freedom in the world.

In 2010 Jack Matlock, the distinguished former US ambassador to the USSR, published Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality. Lately, even former President Jimmy Cater went on record as saying that the USA "no longer has a functioning democracy”.Had US leaders, both in the government and media, honestly pondered about serious implications of such pronouncements by seasoned diplomats and politicians, they would have been less rush in condemning Snowden.

An earnest effort at introspection is a must for the nation. A country that fails to integrate citizens of different ideological persuasions is bound to disintegrate.

Frank Shatz

Frank Shatz is a Columnist for the The Virginia Gazette

Solutions of problems between people and nations are found through interactions, not a tit-for-tat policy.

The Expert’s Panel’s original question, "What is in the best interest of the United States – for Obama to go to Moscow and/or St. Petersburg, or not to go?” was overtaken by the White House decision to cancel the Obama – Putin, one-on-one meeting, in Moscow.

Thus, Edward Lozansky, in a Washington Times op-ed piece outlined the urgent need for a meeting between the two leaders in St.Petersburg, because "major issues that are not discussed will not get resolved "

Contemplating Lozansky’s mind-set about the need to repair the breach between the U. S. and Russia, I recalled my interview with James Baldwin, one of America’s foremost black writers, living at that time, in self-imposed exile, on the French Riviera.

Baldwin lived up to his reputation as a fierce, outspoken and eloquent black writer. He was courteous, humorous and kind one moment, and the next was carried away by the firmness and heat of his own arguments. His words placed, like bricks on bricks, a heavy burden of guilt on the shoulders of any white man he happened to talk to.

He has chosen his words deliberately and carefully, "I am a rewriter,” he said. "My sentences consist usually of eight words, and each must have meaning and weight.”

He said, "I don’t give a sh… how white people get rid of their guilt feelings. It is their problem. We blacks have ours. You asked me about John Brown, the abolitionist. Now here was a white man who needed to cleanse his soul of guilt. To do so he made an attack on the bastion of the federal government. He did it in an attempt to liberate not merely the black slaves but the whole country from a disastrous way of life. It was on his part, an act of love, and it failed. What is left is the impact made on the conscience of the few people which travels down in time.”

Baldwin lamented on the damage done to the relationship between white and black people, and posed the question, what to do about it? "I don’t have the answer to the problems of white people,” he said. "Although I believe that a real solution to the problems of America can be brought about only through love between people. And it won’t happen overnight. Whether it will work, I don’t know. It wasn’t really ever tried, anywhere.”

I don’t know whether James Baldwin formula for the solutions of problems between people and nations could be applied to the US – Russian relationship, but the only way to find out is by interaction, not a tit-for-tat policy.

President Putin’s remark, that he won’t permit Snowden to do harm to the United States while residing on Russian soil, should be formalized. It may be the signal the Obama administration is waiting for to go ahead with a one-on-one meeting.

Andrej Kreutz

Andrej Kreutz is Adjunct Professor of University of Calgary and Affiliated Expert of the European Geopolitical Forum

Obama’s Moscow Summit Misstep

Since the beginning of the Snowden affair I have been quite concerned about its impact both on the American-Russian relations and the global human rights cause which he claims to defend. In fact, further developments have proved to be worse than I would have anticipated. The event was used to intensify the hysterical Russophobic campaign in the US and allied countries and Snowden’s revelations about the massive and often world-wide surveillance programs were mainly overlooked and even the leading human rights organizations remained largely silent. However, although I am pessimistic about these developments, I do not think the importance of President Obama’s decision to cancel the Moscow summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin should be either dramatized or exaggerated.

Despite the number of political problems to be discussed, the domestic political cost of Obama agreeing to meet Putin at this time would be too high, and as a democratic politician he probably had no other rational choice to make but to cancel the summit. Although it was an undoubted snub to the Russian President and his country, I do not believe this will have many major and long-lasting political consequences for US-Russian relations. The commentators who wrote about the end of "reset” probably did not remember that in fact, it had always been in its scope quite limited and brought many more gains to the US than to Russia. While Moscow has made several political concessions concerning among others Afghanistan, Iran and Libya, the Americans did not even want to start a serious political discussion on crucial strategic issues for Russia such as the NATO expansion and the BM deployment in Europe. The information war against Russia has never stopped, but after 2011 it was greatly intensified. The issues on which the Americans would need Russian cooperation will still be discussed and some positive solutions will not be excluded. On August 9, 2013 the Foreign and Defense ministers of both nations were meeting in the US capital and in September President Obama will be attending the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.

However, at the same time the Snowden case has brought to light a major problem in American-Russian relations, one which had never before been squarely faced and analysed. As the Director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow Dmitri Trenin indicates, "the problem is how to construct equal relations between two countries which are very unequal in terms of national might and international power”[1]. According to him, "the US expects deference, Russia insists on independence. For Washington partnership with Moscow means Moscow helping the US on the US agenda, for Moscow, it means splitting of difference”[2] and a kind of compromise.

While the US recognizes China and Saudi Arabia as the independent and domestically fully autonomous power centers, in my opinion it still does not want to accept Russia as such. Most of the American leaders believe that this country is in permanent decline and that because of that neither its national interest nor political traditions need to be taken seriously into account. Quite recently few things have demonstrated that as much as apparent scorn and sarcasm of the American politicians while speaking about Russian President Putin who had affirmed from the outset that he didn’t want to Snowden incident to harm Russia’s relations with the US. None of them would be likely to talk this way on the Chinese President or even on the leaders of the other less important countries. This is a major obstacle to any real progress in American-Russian relations which might and should be beneficial for both nations.

To summarize:

1. The use of foreign, non US journalists in the Snowden case was probably the only effective way to make his revelations public and efficient. Any other outlet would probably be either unwilling or unable to do that.

2. The well respected American international lawyer Professor Richard Falk indicates that because Snowden was accused of a "quintessential political offense, for Russia returning him to the US would have been morally and politically scandalous”[3]. Professor Falk blames Putin for "his approach to political dissent in Russia” but according to him "that does not diminish the basic correctness of his response to Snowden[4].

3. Nothing in the future is impossible, but at present it seems very unlikely. Too many changes both domestic and international would be required.


1 Dmitri Trenin, "The Snowden Case as the Mirror of US-Russia Contentions.” Carnegie Moscow Center, Eurasian Outlook, August 2, 2013

2 Ibid

3 Richard Falk, "Snowden’s Asylum: It’s the law stupid”, http://.mwcnews.net, August 5, 2013

4 Ibid

Obama’s Moscow summit misstepAndrew Liakhov

Andrew Liakhov is partner of the international law firm Integrites

Snowden problem is a tool in the domestic US politics 

1. Everyone knows that every security agency in the world monitors communication traffic (phones, e-mails, etc). The Echelon system of bulk control of transatlantic comms traffic functions for over 20 years. Following 9/11 Echelon has been substantially expanded, upgraded and modified. Similar systems/projects are run by every other intelligence agency (GCHQ, SVR, MOSSAD, BND, 10 Bureau, etc). These systems and their effect on constitutional rights are regularly discussed in the media.

2. Intelligence product is shared/exchanged between the US and its closest allies since at least 1947 USA--UK agreement on sharing of intelligence information. Various intelligence agencies cooperate in a variable degree on various operations since the end of WWII.

Having the above in mind, Snowden's revelations provide more detail of how exactly these systems are functioning, but they do not add anything which would change the general understanding of how these systems operate or of the scale of their monitoring abilities. Although these details may be of value to the specialists, they add relatively little to the public understanding of mass surveillance programs.

3. Intelligence officers either switch sides or go public from time to time. To date the direction of their public defections was primarily Westwards. This fact was used by the US for a variety of purposes. The Snowden case is probably the first case where the whistleblower headed (with caveats - see below) in the opposite direction. I cannot remember any other case like this since 1975 whistleblowing book by a former CIA blackops officer Phillip Agee. The difference between Agee and Snowden is only the place where the latter was forced to chose for his hiding place.

4. Like the Agee case, Snowden "revelations" will promarily affect the Hill and the agencies whose "shenanigins" Snowden exposed. I suspect there may be enough traction on the Hill (with the start of the election campaign in not so distant future) to form a "Church MkII committee" to investigate and reform the NSA (and maybe to clean up the CIA. Again).

All politics is domestic politics and the "Russian angle" in the Snowden case should be viewed having this in mind. The strange coincidences start with the timing of revocation of Snowden's passport. Knowing that Snowden has boarded the flight in HK with a stopover in Moscow, it was relatively easy to calculate the exact time of his arrival to the final destination. Whoever signed off on the decision to revoke the passport precisely at the time of Snowden's intended brief stopover in Moscow has willingly or unwillingly triggered the chain of events which lead to the cancellation of Obama's one on one meeting with VVP. It must be remembered that whenthe Department of State revokes a U.S. passport, revocation information is shared through various databases accessible by law enforcement and various border agencies around the world to prevent persons from traveling on revoked passports and Russia had to no other option but to prevent him from travelling to his final destination.

It was clear from day 1 of his stay in Sheremetievo that Russia will not send him to the US. The only question was always where he would end up - Russia or a third country.However, this was conclusively answered by the US when the plane of the Bolivian President was forced to land in Austria and searched.

This sequence of events could be an indication of a complicated long term political combination with Snowden being only a small part of. I doubt that the intended result was just the cancellation of the Obama meeting with Putin. It seems to be quite a high price for the cancellation of that meeting. I think events on the Hill will soon reveal why Snowden was forced to take residence at a house in a quiet townhouse development near Moscow.

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