President Obama is canceling plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin while traveling to the country for the Group of 20 economic summit next month, a public show of outrage over Russia giving intelligence leaker Edward Snowden asylum.
While expected, the decision still constitutes a rare diplomatic snub and demonstrates just how angry the Obama administration is over Russia’s decision to take in Snowden, as well as other recent U.S. disappointments about Russia’s failure to cooperate on other issues, such as missile defense and human rights.
Obama will still attend the G-20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, but has decided against meeting with Putin one-on-one while there, according to a senior White House official.
For weeks, while Snowden remained in a Moscow airport and before Russia allowed him to enter the country, the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry continued to stress that Snowden shouldn't affect the United States' relationship with Russia.
That delicate negotiating stance disappeared, however, once Russia allowed Snowden to leave the airport and formally enter the country.
“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Russia's decision last week to defy the U.S. and take in Snowden exacerbated an already troubled relationship. With disagreements over a number of major agenda items remaining and little hope for reaching agreement before the meeting, Carney said Obama decided to cancel it altogether.
Carney said the White House has informed the Russian government that the U.S. is postponing the summit until “we have more results from our shared agenda.”
Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded the move, arguing it should make it clear to Russia that giving Snowden refugee status is “unacceptable.”
"Snowden should be sent to the U.S. to defend his actions in a U.S. court of law,” he said.
The Russian government, however, provided only a muted reaction to the cancellation. While Putin had wanted the media attention the at-home bilateral would inevitably attract, he didn't appear willing to offer any concessions in exchange for it.
Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters Wednesday that the Kremlin was disappointed in the decision but also seemed to shrug it off, blaming the Snowden controversy, which he said Russia did not cause.
“It is clear that this decision is related to a situation with the former employee of the U.S. special services, Snowden, which we did not create,” Ushakov said.
He then blamed the United States for reneging on the meeting – a step he said would demonstrate the two countries' interest in developing better relations.
“This problem testifies to the remaining unpreparedness of the United States to build an equal relationship,” he said. “Russia is ready to continue working with its U.S. partners on all key items on the bilateral and multilateral agendas.”
Cooperation with Russia on the Snowden matter and other international issues remains a priority, Carney said. To that end, Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington on Friday to “discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.”
Instead of meeting with Putin in Moscow, Obama will head to Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 4 and 5 to discuss new trade and investment opportunities, as well as joint plans to advance “clean technologies” and promote “environmental sustainability,” the White House said.