The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 16, 2013

Putin snub deserved; go further

Why it matters Coddling the Russian president does little to advance U.S. causes


The Mankato Free Press

---- — President Obama’s decision to cancel a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew some unwarranted and high-minded criticism.

The White House said the snub was not directly tied to Russia’s refusal to hand over Edward Snowden but rather the result of frustration by Obama to move on other serious issues including Russia backing of Syria’s Bashar Assad, intransigence on a missile defense treaty and human rights concerns.

In a recent press conference, Obama said “Frankly, on a whole range of issues where we think we can make some progress, Russia has not moved” and stated the U.S. should “take a pause (and) reassess where it is that Russia is going.”

Obama insists relations with Putin are not poor and “the truth is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.”

There should be little concern over this political ploy since meetings are still being held between Russian and U.S. foreign policy and defense chiefs which they both say are very positive.

There also is continued agreement on the need to get a Syrian peace conference going.

Sen. John McCain last week said the president may not fully appreciate the true character of Putin: “He’s an old KGB colonel that has no illusions about our relationship, does not care about a relationship with the United States, continues to oppress his people, continues to act in an autocratic fashion.”

That’s a pretty blunt and accurate assessment of Putin. He really has no need for America to love him. It won’t matter to how he governs and in fact his tactics bolster his tough guy image that he’s crafted for domestic consumption.

It may be time to not only reassess where Russia is headed but where is the United States headed in continuing to expect Putin to change.

While we shouldn’t be worried about offending him in political terms, we should continue to work at lower levels especially on matters of a solid missile defense treaty.

But there is some wisdom in turning the tables on Putin.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times suggested “It would be much better to hit (Putin) where it would really hurt by publicly challenging the notion that he is making Russia strong.”

Focus on the civil liberty violations that have led to many brilliant minds to flee Russia, his tacit approval of xenophobia and lack of investment in human capital — his people.

So we should not be worried about offending a person like Putin.

So far being nice has only made Putin look more imperial than he deserves.

Other view on this topic

Los Angeles Times

If it’s a refusal to engage with Russia, that would be bad. But more likely, it’s political Kabuki theater.

If President Obama’s decision to cancel a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled a refusal to engage with Russia on matters of mutual interest, we’d be concerned.

Although Russia lacks the superpower status of the now-defunct Soviet Union, it retains a veto on the U.N. Security Council and could still play a constructive role in resolving the civil war in Syria.

The two countries also have unresolved bilateral issues, including further reductions in nuclear stockpiles and Russian objections to the deployment of a NATO anti-missile system in Poland and Romania.

But it appears that the president’s refusal to hold talks with Putin in Moscow next month doesn’t in fact constitute a rupture in conversations between the two countries, which will continue at other levels.

It’s better viewed as a clear but calibrated expression of displeasure over the Russian government’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden and its growing hostility to political dissent, civil rights and the activities on Russian soil of international human-rights groups.