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Obama’s Russia “Snub”

I’m not sure that Obama’s decision to “snub” Putin at the G-20 meeting will be all that important in the end, but Jacob Heilbrunn is right when he says [1] this:

The more Obama seeks to challenge Putin, the stiffer Russian resistance will become.

This is a point that is often lost on Americans and Westerners that demand that their leaders “stand up” to Russia, since many people in the West seem to think that the Russian government would behave in a significantly different fashion if only more Westerners did more to shame or “punish” it. We wouldn’t expect our political leaders to respond to a foreign government’s pressure by making concessions and heeding its demands, so it’s strange that so many people seem to think that Russian leaders are going to be impressed by increased pressure. If the goal is to get Russia to make changes or concessions on any issue, we have seen over the last decade that this isn’t the way to do it. There are some issues, especially domestic Russian ones, where foreign pressure is not just ineffective, but can be genuinely harmful to the causes it is trying to aid.

As rebukes go, Obama’s cancellation of the bilateral summit meeting with Putin isn’t that strong, but it could and probably will be used as a pretext for greater antagonism on some issue. It goes without saying that the decision to cancel will have no positive effect on Moscow’s internal conduct, its asylum decision on Snowden, or any other outstanding disagreement between Washington and Moscow, but then it isn’t intended to have that effect. This is a decision primarily meant to placate American critics of Russia, who predictably won’t be satisfied with this gesture, and to save Obama the trouble of a meeting that would likely have been fruitless anyway.

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Obama’s Russia “Snub”"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 7, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

Don’t forget, it’s not the nation that secretly spies wholesale on everything its citizens do, that has slipped back into a “Cold War” mentality, according to the man who won’t be attending.

#2 Comment By Dan Davis On August 7, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

Of course Putin saw this coming. He just made the cool calculation that he didn’t care. It does the heart good to see “our” government taken down a notch.

#3 Comment By Flavius On August 7, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

Does anybody anywhere think Obama punches at Putin’s weight? It surely would appear that Obama, in boxing parlance, is ducking him. All in all, in terms of our national interests, this is not an altogether bad thing. The only thing Obama seems enthusiastic to discuss in Russia is gay rights; we would find ourselves in the foreign policy twilight zone were he to maneuver himself into canceling our participation in the Olympics in order to placate a domestic constituency. Proportionality as a principle in the post modern era of American Defense Policy is not much in favor, if it ever was.

#4 Comment By collin On August 7, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

This story over the long term will have the impact of the Republicans threatening not hold a debate if NBC goes forward on some HRC mini-series.

I think the only thing Obama and Putin agreed upon is nothing would accomplished so why not cancel.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 7, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

“The only thing he seems enthusiastic to discuss in Russia is gay rights…”

And don’t forget, in gay marriage rights (the single civil liberty issue in the whole wide world now that the US actually upholds) like everything else he does, he was against it, before he was for it.

#6 Comment By balconesfault On August 7, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

I’m really not even sure what “punches at Putin’s weight” is supposed to mean.

Granted, Putin has one structural advantage in any talks – if he says Russia will do something, he can pretty much guarantee Russia will do it. Obama, of course, cannot guarantee anything that would require Congressional action in the US, and moreover Obama actually promising something that would require Congressional action would be a very effective way of making sure that whatever it is never gets done.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 7, 2013 @ 5:57 pm

” Obama, of course, cannot guarantee anything that would require Congressional action in the US, and moreover Obama actually promising something that would require Congressional action would be a very effective way of making sure that whatever it is never gets done.”

Hence, the preference to rule secretly, in the dark, dispensing with democratic accountability.

#8 Comment By James Canning On August 7, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

I regret Obama’s cancellation of his meeting with Putin. But cannot say I am surprised.

#9 Comment By James Canning On August 7, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

Dan Davis – – I think Putin would prefer the meeting with Obama to take place.

#10 Comment By Andrew On August 7, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

@James

I think Putin would prefer the meeting with Obama to take place.

You are absolutely right. In fact, my guess will be that Putin needs this meeting way more than Obama. Putin’s affairs on the “home front” are not that great and looking stately with the President of the global superpower can deflect somewhat a real anger which builds inside Russia–be it the jump in the cost of utilities (yet again), rising prices at the pump or rising inter-ethnic tensions in which Russians (not entirely without a justification) consider themselves to be the victims.

#11 Comment By Andrew On August 7, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

Does anybody anywhere think Obama punches at Putin’s weight?

And what is Putin’s “weight” (tatami excluded) in any of the issues of his domestic policies? At best a mediocre manager and handler of the most important domestic problems–from economy to defense. A “leader” whose rating shows a very well pronounced decline. As for foreign policy–do not mistake Putin’s projections of “macho man”–a butt of the jokes in Russia–with, at best, feeble results on many important fronts.

#12 Comment By balconesfault On August 7, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

Hence, the preference to rule secretly, in the dark, dispensing with democratic accountability.

I do believe that Obama’s preference is to govern (not rule) out in the open … except for National Security issues, where his embrace of the surveillance state perfected under Bush/Cheney has been disheartening even to many of his supporters.

But it is difficult to practice “democratic accountability” when one cannot even get an up/down vote on most of their agency appointees, much less on judicial nominees.

Meanwhile, it does seem that if Republicans want democratic accountability, they should at least allow for debate on the Senate floor without incessant filibuster, and dispense with the Hastert Rule so that we can see whether the majority of Congress supports specific legislation, rather than only being able to know if the majority of the GOP does so?

#13 Comment By cecelia On August 7, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

I think this is a mistake – we need to get beyond this petty stuff and think bigger – newer – as if we had some confidence.

Putin does Obama a favor keeping Snowden in Moscow – no trial – no congressional hearings – the whole thing goes away.

Meanwhile – Obama should act as if the Snowden thing is no big deal – not to a confident US – and get on with Putin re: substantial stuff like arms control – Afghanistan – world wide terrorism etc.

#14 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 7, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

This decision stems from a classic misapprehension in US foreign policy–that refusing to recognize or talk to foreign régimes is an effective sanction. Especially when taken from our moral high horse, the effectiveness of such tactics is illusory. It stems from an exaggerated view of our national specialness and virtue.

Moreover, we take in Russians all the time, including Chechen murderers. That’s part of life in international relations. Tell Obama to take a Valium and call Putin in the morning.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 7, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

“… if Republicans want democratic accountability … ”

It appears irrefutable, from their embrace of the mass surveillance turned inwards upon the American people, and now revealed to be shared with other agencies, who then fake the evidence trail to maintain unaccountability, that most of both of the political duopoly don’t favor accountability. After all, elections are a nuisance – and they make it “legally” impossible to break the stranglehold away from them.

Obama has gotten a great deal of bipartisan support for his intransigence – the latest attempt to try to reign in rampant domestic spying for any purpose at all, was only rebuffed by the extra support he sought, and got from Republicans.

#16 Comment By Richard Parker On August 7, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

I think this help Putin. Many of the Russian people have become anti-American (in large part due to our own policies and our own hypocrisy.) They may not like Putin much (he is way pass his “use by” date, but poking Uncle Sam is sure to be popular.

As to an Olympic boycott, I say “Yes, Yes, and Yes!” With any sort of luck this would bankrupt NBC and if a Gay and Friends Counter-Olympic s was held in California-Oregon-Nevada, it could just end the modern Olympic Mega-Corp.

Why the blessings from our Olympic boycott could bring endless unforeseen benefits!

#17 Comment By Richard Parker On August 7, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

I Had A Dream (of an edit button at TAC!)

#18 Comment By WorkingClass On August 7, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

We have an American seeking political asylum in Russia. It used to happen the other way around. An American is fleeing tyranny. Putin knows what the whole round world knows. If Snowden is returned he will become a political prisoner in the American gulag along with Private Manning. Obama has made a fool of himself with his petty and vindictive persecution of whistle blowers. Now he makes it worse by his childish snub.

Obama should make a gift of Snowden to Putin in a gesture of good will.

cecelia has it right.

#19 Comment By jamie On August 8, 2013 @ 2:39 am

We have an American seeking political asylum in Russia. It used to happen the other way around. An American is fleeing tyranny.

He’s not seeking refuge, he’s making a deal. God only knows what Snowden will have to do for Putin in order to get his “temporary” asylum converted into something more permanent, let alone if he were ever naturalized that would afford him any actual safety. He’s traded the (pretty good) chance of ADX Florence for certainty of a permanent, omnipresent FSB “security detail.”

Any altruistic read of Russia’s intentions for Snowden would be puerile. Of course, petulant moralizing is pretty much all there is of a proper Civil Liberties movement in the US. To listen to American advocates, “civil liberties” is 50% hero worship of narcissistic crackpots, and 50% encrypting your laptop.

#20 Comment By tbraton On August 8, 2013 @ 9:37 am

“And don’t forget, in gay marriage rights (the single civil liberty issue in the whole wide world now that the US actually upholds) like everything else he does, he was against it, before he was for it.”

Well, actually, he was for it before he was against it before he was for it once again. As a state senator in Illinois in the 90’s, he was in favor of gay marriage. Starting with his run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, through his run for the Presidency and up to 2012, he was against gay marriage. Suddenly, in 2012, influenced by the views of his two young daughters, he saw the light again and came out in favor of gay marriage.

#21 Comment By slimslowslider On August 8, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Well said, balconesfault.

#22 Comment By R.S. On August 8, 2013 @ 11:00 am

Richard Parker: “I think this help Putin. Many of the Russian people have become anti-American (in large part due to our own policies and our own hypocrisy.) They may not like Putin much (he is way pass his “use by” date, but poking Uncle Sam is sure to be popular.”

Actually, it’s not true that Putin has become unpopular. I see this repeated all the time in the Western media, but data from independent polling agencies in Russia show that his popularity over the last few years has remained in the range of about 65%.

Putin has not become unpopular – almost two thirds of the Russian public approve of his performance. He’s just not as overwhelmingly popular as he was during Russia’s boom years in the 2000’s.

See:

[2]

#23 Comment By AndrewH On August 8, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

He’s not seeking refuge, he’s making a deal.

He’s still seeking refuge from the US regime.

Any altruistic read of Russia’s intentions for Snowden would be puerile.

I don’t think anyone believes any state has altruistic intentions and that includes the US when it took in Solzhenitsyn. You’re ranting like a lunatic.

#24 Comment By Andrew On August 8, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

Putin has not become unpopular – almost two thirds of the Russian public approve of his performance. He’s just not as overwhelmingly popular as he was during Russia’s boom years in the 2000′s.

In this matter, I think, Levada-Center is just one of a number of the pollsters. In fact, the same Levada-Center gives a very thorough explanation of the “mood” on the street:

[3]

And none other than Levada-Center’s Director Gudkov gave a very detailed interview to an influential Kommersant precisely on this issue. I will abstain here from commenting on that myself but I doubt that Mark Adomanis, despite basing his conclusions on the data of the same Levada-Center, is correct. In fact, he is dead-wrong in omitting the phenomenon of the “right answer”. Also he missed VTZIOM’s data on Putin’s rating fluctuations in 2012 and the range of those fluctuations? The lowest was 37%.

[4]

But, of course, the real mood on the street is altogether a different issue. The mood is not good, to say the least and I am not talking about the darlings of Western Media Moscow “liberals”, who are a tiny minority of Russian people.

#25 Comment By Tavern Keeper On August 8, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

The Obama administration’s decision to pull out of the summit meeting with Putin is being seen as a sign of weakness, not strength. Between this and the snub to Saudi Arabia over weapons contracts, the divide between Russian influenced nations and United States influenced nations is becoming clear, especially in the Middle East.

#26 Comment By kievite On August 9, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

This situation has become really worrisome. But for a different reason.

While Russia should be a natural ally of the USA, there are powerful forces in both countries (and first of all in the USA) which does not want that. And recent events give them new ammunition, especially strong for Russian side (after all it was the USA which implicitly tried to break into Medvedev’s correspondence via its UK poodle.).

As Putin recently remarked the USA does not need allies, it needs vassals. The imperial policy makes cooperation very limited, if possible at all. At the same time antagonizing Russia has its own costs, although they are much higher for Russia, then for the USA: nationalistic Russian forces now openly claim that the USA is a fascist state bent on the world domination which wants to partition Russia. They revived the slogan ‘¡No pasarán!’ and push for rapid remilitarization at all costs, which would be a disaster for Russian economy.

In view of this, discussions of popularity of Putin above look to me somewhat detached for reality. He is in the position of TINA in Margaret Thatcher’s words, or Obama on steroids if you wish ;-). In other word his power is in the ability to balance forces that would be at each other throat instantly, if Putin is gone. There is no other alternative acceptable to more or less wide faction of Russian elite.

Transnationally oriented part (aka Russian fifth column ;-), which would support somebody like Navalny, is too afraid of the Russian society (which remember Yeltsin’s years) and even more afraid to lose everything (including probably freedom, if not lives), if it gambles on a wrong person.

Nationalists would prefer somebody more anti-Western, but have no any candidates with national standing. For then Putin is too a pro-Western and, especially, pro-German. They want a new Stalin. So you can imagine the political views of a politician who can come to power, if they win.

#27 Comment By kievite On August 9, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

WorkingClass says:

> We have an American seeking political asylum in Russia.
> It used to happen the other way around.

Actually one of previous cases was Lee Harvey Oswald.

#28 Comment By Andrew On August 9, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

@Kievite

nationalistic Russian forces now openly claim that the USA is a fascist state bent on the world domination which wants to partition Russia.

Man, you overshot by about 15 years. This theory was in rotation in the so called “patriotic” media, together with mythical Dulles speech and Thatcher’s “partition and depopulation” dreams since….oh my….1996-97. Then, of course, Yugoslavia happened. I also have huge issue with “nationalistic forces”.

#29 Comment By Ed On August 10, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

Sure, pushing Russia around isn’t likely to change anything, but who are these Westerners who are “demanding” that their officials “stand up” to Russia? And who are these persistent “critics” of Russia the president is trying so hard to placate. The LGBTQ community and their sympathizers and allies?

Apart from the gay community I don’t hear anybody “demanding” anything from Russia or from the Western countries in their negotiations with Russia. Western attitudes were certainly different in the past and very hostile to the Soviet regime, but there just isn’t much interest in Russia nowadays. We may not like Putin’s regime, but it’s an improvement over what there was before, and any changes are going to have to come from the Russians themselves.