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Fissures apparent, Obama cancels meeting with Putin

WASHINGTON — President Obama canceled an upcoming summit with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Wednesday, a rare, deliberate snub that reflects the fresh damage done by the Edward Snowden case to an important relationship already in decline.

Obama had planned to visit Moscow for a symbolic one-on-one Kremlin meeting with Putin in advance of next month’s Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg. In unusually blunt terms, the White House announced Wednesday that Obama will skip the Moscow stop because there is too little hope of a productive meeting.

‘‘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 US-Russia summit in early September,’’ White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.


With that announcement, Obama effectively wrote off more than a year of effort to build cooperation with Putin, a shrewd but famously irascible politician with a deep suspicion of US motives.

Gone, too, are most of the administration’s first-term hopes of a US-Russian partnership — the so-called ‘‘reset’’ — that emphasized common approaches to global problems despite acknowledged policy differences.

On Tuesday, Obama told Jay Leno of ‘‘The Tonight Show’’ that he was frustrated by Russia’s protection of Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who is wanted on espionage charges after leaking highly classified documents about US surveillance programs. Snowden last week was granted temporary asylum in Russia for up to a year.

‘‘There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality,’’ Obama said. ‘‘What I continually say to them and to President Putin — that’s the past.’’

Carney also cited a ‘‘lack of progress’’ with Russia on a broad range of issues including missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, and human rights issues.


‘‘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,’’ Carney said.

Although Putin clearly wanted the prestige of an at-home summit with his US counterpart, he was apparently unwilling to offer much in exchange for it.

Russia holds a veto at the United Nations Security Council, where differences with the United States over international problems are often on display. Russia is also a member of nearly every major international diplomatic, political, or economic forum, wielding outsize influence compared to its true military or economic heft in the post-Cold War era.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry will still hold a planned meeting on Friday with Russia’s defense and foreign ministers. The deepening civil war in Syria, where Russia and the United States are backing opposing sides, will be a central topic.

A proposed peace conference sponsored jointly by Russia and the United States has been shelved indefinitely, and Russia has long opposed stronger punishment for Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, at the United Nations.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said while the timing is wrong for a symbolic presidential meeting, the lower-level contacts are important to preserve. She listed Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea as areas of cooperation.

‘‘We’re not afraid to make public or state clearly where we have disagreements,’’ Psaki said.

Instead of visiting Moscow ahead of the G-20 summit, Obama will travel to Stockholm on Sept. 4, the White House said. Obama and Putin will see each other at the larger international meeting in St. Petersburg.


For weeks, the White House had signaled it was considering canceling the Kremlin visit.

‘‘In the specific areas that we have set out to make progress with the Russian government, we just hadn’t,’’ said a senior Obama administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic issues. The official noted that the Obama’s national security advisers all agreed with the cancellation.

The matter-of-fact tone of the eventual announcement was in stark contrast to the tortured explanations that Carney and others offered for Putin’s decision to cancel a visit to the United States in May 2012, shortly after he reassumed the presidency.

US officials insisted then that Putin’s absence from a Group of Eight meeting was not a snub, although the gathering had been moved from Chicago to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., largely to accommodate the Russian leader.

Putin returned to Russia’s top job last year, after four years as prime minister. He had previously held the presidency for two terms, and in many senses never left power.

Putin made pointed criticism of the United States a main theme of his campaign, at one point accusing then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of inciting street protests against him.

In office, he has moved to curtail US activity and influence in Russia, expelling the US Agency for International Development and limiting the work of other charitable or pro- democracy groups.