After Russia decided to give metadata mega-leaker Edward Snowden political asylum late last week, you can only imagine President Obama’s musings about the wisdom of his administration’s “reset” policy with Russia.
Remorse probably crossed his mind.
Once again using Snowden, Russian President Vladimir Putin has deemed it fitting to publicly humiliate Obama, plunging already testy personal ties to new depths of despair.
The White House noted it was “extremely disappointed” with the Kremlin. Reuters reports that we may call off meetings between American secretaries of defense and state and their Russian counterparts set for this week.
Obama may also pass on a summit with Putin scheduled around September’s G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg. Others have called for boycotting the 2014 (Sochi) Olympics and even bringing Russia’s nemesis, Georgia, into NATO, according to press reports.
It’s doubtful Putin really wants to completely collapse U.S.-Russia relations, but he’s happy to use the fugitive Snowden as a tool to embarrass and intimidate Obama.
It’s a funny sort of “thanks” for the effort the White House has put into rekindling Kremlin relations.
Team Obama has been pretty soft on Putin & Pals, including the negotiating of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the canceling of U.S. missile defense plans in Eastern Europe. But Putin likely wants even more give from our side.
For instance, Putin and Obama disagree over the way ahead in Syria. Damascus is Moscow’s long-time friend. It buys lots of Russian weapons, hosts a naval base and gives Moscow muscle in the Middle East.
Moscow would like Washington to back off its (even limited) support for the rebels which — if Damascus falls — will certainly crumble Russian clout in Syria and the region.
The Snowden saga is also payback for what Moscow sees as a litany of grievances against Washington.
The Kremlin is cranky about supposed aggressive American espionage in Russia, especially in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and its possible ties to the Caucasus.
Remember the mockery the Russian security services made of a supposed CIA officer caught “spying” this spring — replete with television coverage and clownish wigs?
The Kremlin is also unhappy about the case of Viktor Bout, the infamous arms dealer, as well as the new U.S. law restricting travel of some Russian officials in the wake of the prison death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
In general, the Russians also dislike Americans harping on human and political rights issues and are using Snowden as proof of perceived American hypocrisy on civil liberties.
It’s also about standing up to the United States, delighting some segments of Russian society and distracting them from their social ills while chest-beating for audiences abroad. This is Putin after all.
Unfortunately, Putin feels he can treat the president — and by extension America — this way. Obama needs to show some pique, making it clear there’s a price to be paid for this sort of disdain. Otherwise, more of it is sure to follow.
***Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, and a contributing editor to A Line of Sight. This article also published August 5, 2013 in his regular column in the Boston Herald.