World From Berlin 'Slipping Back Into Cold War Thinking'
US President Barack Obama cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia's decision to take in Edward Snowden. German editorialists believe the move marks a new low in US-Russian ties -- which are strained by a growing number of disagreements.
Russia's loss is Sweden's gain: On Wednesday, the White House revealed that US President Obama will visit Stockholm on September 4-5, on his way to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. "Sweden is a close friend and partner to the United States," said the press secretary in a statement.
And right now, Russia isn't. Obama was originally planning to be in Moscow on these dates for talks with President Vladimir Putin -- but the Russian leader has been given the brush-off. It seems the Kremlin's decision to grant asylum to fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was the final straw.
"Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda to hold a US-Russia summit in early September," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "(Russia's) decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor."
"I was disappointed," said Obama when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno earlier this week. "Even though we don't have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there's a law breaker or an alleged law breaker in their country: We evaluate it and we try to work with them. They didn't do that with us. And in some ways it's reflective of some underlying challenges that we've had with Russia lately."
As the White House statement made clear, the Snowden issue is not the only sticking point.
"Given our 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 twelve months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," said Carney.
Cold War Thinking
"There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," Obama remarked of the Russians on "The Tonight Show."
Some may argue that the first cancellation of a Moscow summit by a US president since the collapse of the Soviet Union is also reminiscent of Cold War era tactics. Even when Putin skipped a G-8 summit at Camp David in May 2012, commentators broadly agreed that his no-show was not intended as a snub.
But when the two leaders last met -- in June at the G-20 summit in Northern Ireland -- their lack of chemistry was written on their faces, and Obama's latest move hardly comes as a surprise. Last week, Carney had already hinted a cancellation might be imminent: "Obviously, this is not a positive development," he said of Moscow's decision to grant Snowden asylum. "We are continuing to evaluate the utility of a summit."
Amid a climate of growing animosity, Russia is well aware it's being shown the cold shoulder. Obama's visit would have reflected well on Putin, and the Kremlin has already voiced disappointment over the cancellation, but says it remains ready to work with the United States on bilateral and international issues. Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters Wednesday that the US move reflected its inability to develop relations with Moscow on an "equal basis."
As German editorialists observe, the Snowden debacle is just one in a long list of disagreements straining US-Russian ties. But across the political spectrum, the country's media argue that this latest upset is equally damaging to both Obama and Putin.
Berlin left-leaning daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:
"The conflict in Syria, missile defense, arms control, human rights and civil society -- all these issues were preoccupying Barack Obama when he brusquely cancelled his meeting with Putin. Snowden and the secrecy of the secret services are not the only problem. In recent months, anger has been growing on this side of the Atlantic at how little consensus can be reached with the Kremlin on topical international issues. Snowden simply supplied the final push needed for this harsh diplomatic gesture."
Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The fact that the comment was made in a talk show does nothing to diminish its message: The US President hit the nail on the head when he accused the Russian leadership of a Cold War mentality."
"All too often, the sole purpose of Russia's policies seems to be to obstruct. The core problem of Russia's leadership is that it is retrogressive: It has not dealt with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Cold War defeat. It continues to believe there can only be one winner in its relationship to the US. Obama's much vaunted reset in US-Russian ties promised four years ago is history -- and the president has learnt another lesson. Such a hard lesson that it merited his cancellation of the meeting with Putin."
Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Even though it (Obama's cancellation) was obviously coming, it was a shock. Obama assumed office saying he would talk to everyone, including and especially the enemies of the US. ... There are many reasons not to like the autocratic ruler in Moscow ... but Russia's asylum offer to Snowden is not one of them."
"It's as though the old Cold War blocs are re-forming, only this time without opposing systems. But this isn't what is happening. The two countries depend too much on one another. Without Russia's support, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove difficult, and without minimal agreement between the two powers, the Security Council would permanently revert to the era of Cold War paralysis. And Iron Curtain and world trade are mutually exclusive."
"In this respect, it is not Obama's intention to cut off ties. It seems that the US government is truly offended by Russia's asylum offer to Snowden and now feels obligated to take a hard line. It is a question of credibility. But this is exactly what Obama has now lost -- on the one hand, because of the hunt against Snowden but mainly because of the facts which Snowden revealed. A president who started out wanting to adopt a different foreign policy to that of his predecessor is now digging deeper into the very trenches (Bush) laid. His snub to Putin is just one more reason to be disappointed by Obama's foreign policy."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Putin believes that Obama -- who gave up plans for a missile defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic when he didn't need to -- is weak. This is one of the reasons why he offered Snowden asylum. Obama had no choice but to express disappointment and to cancel his visit to Moscow. A gesture of Carter-esque helplessness on the heels of a humiliation of Carter-esque proportions. It will be seen in Tehran the same way is it is seen in Moscow, which does not bode well for the looming conflict over Iran's nuclear policy."
"One thing is clear: Criticism of Barack Obama's Carter-esque foreign policy is growing, and rightly so."
- Jane Paulick