Wednesday morning, the White House announced that President Barack Obama was canceling his trip to Russia and any bilateral meeting with President Putin. He will well attend the G20, September 5th and 6th in St. Petersburg, but only to participate in this international summit, without an ad hoc meeting with his Russian counterpart. This is the first time since the Cold War that Washington has expressed its displeasure with Moscow in such a manner.

According to the U.S. press, the two presidents are now so far from each other on most issues, they would have nothing to say. Commentators see asylum granted to the ex-NSA consultant Edward Snowden as the straw that broke the camel’s back. By a happy coincidence, the White House announcement was preceded on the eve by an editorial in the New York Times, a daily which is perfectly independent of power, of course, specifically calling for the boycott in response to the Snowden evasion [1]. The newspaper speaks of the "provocative decision" of the Russian authorities, granting asylum to an individual who is not being prosecuted for his "race, ethnicity, religion, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, or beliefs" but for "leaking national security secrets." In fact, this reason for cancellation is highly ridiculous in that it would mean that Washington can punish Moscow for defending itself against espionage of which it is the subject, along with the rest of the world.

The summit was to be devoted to military relations between the two countries: reducing arsenals and the "anti-missile shield." The two great powers have failed to significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals as they retain enough firepower to blow up the planet several times over. Despite budget cuts, the U.S. is reluctant to destroy some of its stock, while Russia, whose conventional army is much less well endowed than its U.S. counterpart, considers armament as a whole and refuses to separate negotiations on nuclear from conventional weapons. Regarding "missile defense", Moscow rejects and denounces its misleading name considering it an offensive weapons system directed against Russia. Taking Washington at its word, Vladimir Putin proposed that the "shield" be placed under joint command protecting the two superpowers and their allies from some crazy dictators. Obama replied, "No! ". Then Vladimir Putin demanded that, to ease suspicions, the deployment of the "shield" be accompanied by diplomatic assurances that it would not be used against Russia. Again, Obama replied, "No! ".

On the Russian side, there is little doubt that Barack Obama would have arrived at the summit empty-handed, as he was particularly ill at ease with his Russian counterpart on previous such occasions. Having just imposed drastic budget cuts on the Pentagon, he can do no more. Rather than admit his weakness, he seized the Snowden case as an excuse to cancel. The Global Times, China’s equivalent to the New York Times —and, for its part, the official spokesman of Beijing—, says in an editorial that Russia has emerged victorious in the Snowden match and that the United States has no significant leverage against it. [2]

However, this cancellation will have no effect on peace in the Middle East. Indeed, this Friday the foreign and defense ministers of both countries met quietly in the U.S. capital. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel showed they were very little affected by the cancellation of the Obama-Putin summit. They focused with their counterparts on North Korea and the evolution of Iran under Sheikh Hassan Rohani. Above all, they discussed "common goals in Afghanistan," and "possible cooperation in Syria."

Roger Lagassé

[1"What’s the Point of a Summit", by the editorial team of New York Times, 6 August 2013.

[2"Winners and losers in Snowden fiasco", editorial by the Global Times, 8 August 2013.