In 2001 President Bush met Vladimir Putin at a summit in Slovenia. They met to discuss post-Soviet debt, among other things, but Bush saw their initial meeting as a chance to form a strong relationship with a key player in global politics. According to Decision Points, Putin was rough around the edges, but softened up when W. inquired about a cross that Putin had had blessed in Jerusalem. It was the sentimental story of Putin’s cross and this shared moment that had led Bush to suggest that he had looked into Putin’s soul. But if he really had, he would not have been so impressed.
President Obama definitely isn’t. Last Wednesday, Obama canceled a trip to Russia in part due to an act of diplomatic sabotage in which Putin granted asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The fact that Putin allowed the asylum, was met with some disgust, but shouldn’t have been met with much surprise.
In 2001, President Bush’s first impression of Putin appeared to be an accurate one. Putin was the first leader to call the White House after the September 11th attacks. He made a quick and thoughtful promise to stand down as the U.S. went to DEFCON 3. Within the same year, Putin opened Russian airspace to the U.S. Military, helped to secure supply routes to Afghanistan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and even allowed Russian generals to brief American officers on the perils of an Afghan battlefront.
As time went on, Vladimir Putin became more and more powerful within his own country. And soon, he succumbed to the obstructionist world view held by the former Soviet bureaucrats. One of the first significant acts of American defiance by Putin was Russia’s block on the Security Council for more sanctions on Iraq. Russia had lucrative oil contracts with Iraq and seemed just fine with either Sadam Hussein in power, or the U.S. and Great Britain bogged down. He used Russian energy leverage to exploit and extort former Eastern Bloc countries. Inside Russia, he jailed dissidents, and cracked down on free press.
Relations between Bush and Putin reached a low point when, in 2008, Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia. Yet, President Bush was still able to convince Putin to leave Georgia. I think in small part because the United States still had a measure of leverage over the Russian Federation. In Bush’s second term he launched a defense project which would put a missile a defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This system would have provided to be the most substantial anti-ballistic measure the world had ever seen. Not only that, but it would have been the first step in what would likely become the next frontier of international defense. Russia and Putin were highly uncomfortable with a U.S. anti-ballistic system so close. They were also highly uncomfortable with President Bush’s relationship with former Eastern Bloc countries, and his propensity to support their inclusion into the world’s most powerful alliances. Maybe this discomfort was enough to keep Putin from straying too far from his diplomatic responsibilities.
In 2009 Hillary Clinton met with the Russian foreign minister, and declared a reset on U.S. – Russian relations. She ceremoniously and metaphorically presented the foreign minister with a reset button. The entire scene was embarrassing. Not only was it cheesy, but it sent the Russians a message that it was Bush’s fault for cracking down on human rights, supporting democratic societies in Eastern Europe, developing a defense shield for Europe and North America, and holding Russia to its word. And not Russia’s fault for doing everything else nefarious that THEY had done. However, just like the cross moment, the reset button moment seemed to work too – for a short time.
In the beginning of Obama’s first term there seemed to be a new harmony with Russia and Putin. The United States got Russia into the World Trade Organization, while Russia put harsh sanctions on Iran, recommitted to the logistical support of supplies into Afghanistan, and signed the New Start nuclear arms treaty. But since Putin has regained most of the power he had lost when he left to become prime minister, he has reverted back to the corrupt and obstructionist autocrat that we saw at the end of the Bush administration. Probably even worse so. In the last few years Russia has supported anti-U.S. regimes in Syria and Venezuela, blocked resolutions and opposed sanctions with Iran, and fed anti-American movements within Russia.
Probably the most despicable act of anti-American sentiment was the prohibition of American adoptions in Russia. Putin complied with the nonsensical emotions in Russia that the U.S. is still a rival and threat to Russia, thus compromising the wellbeing of thousands of children born to poverty. The most significant and still threating act of defiance by Putin has been his arming of the Assad regime in Syria. And the most openly humiliating act is now the Snowden issue.
The asylum of Snowden is more than just an insult, it is a real threat. Snowden has documents in his possession that reveal in part the infrastructure of the NSA, and how U.S. intelligence operates. This information, though not published, could ultimately be used against us. Maybe that is Putin’s real motive for Snowden’s asylum. He thinks he can get even more intel out of him. That is why I don’t understand the people who see Snowden as some sort of hero. We can debate about whether or not the NSA has too much access to our information, but if the American people were Snowden’s genuine concern, he would have used other avenues within the government to expose the programs, without compromising huge amounts of NSA data to foreign hosts. He wasn’t crusading. He was being overzealous and anti-establishmentarian. He is no better than Julian Assange, who sees the U.S. as some sort of evil empire, while sympathizing with global miscreants and thugs in Russia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
Though Obama cancelled his meeting with Putin, it is unclear if he will do anything else to send a message to Russia, to bring in Snowden, or to regain some sort of leverage with Russia. He will go to the G-20 in Russia next month, and he will not boycott the Olympics this coming winter. I agree with both decisions. However, the Snowden thing is not insignificant, and neither is the need for Russia to respect our concerns. Former UN ambassador John Bolton suggests reviving the anti-ballistic missile system in Poland to effect our leverage. I agree. The program is a great idea and should have never been canceled in the first place. Playing nice has brought us nothing.
Latest posts by Robert O'Hara (Posts)
- The dawn of Syrian conflict - August 29, 2013
- Of Russian resets and NSA leaks - August 12, 2013
- Too much news is good news for Mullah Omar - July 25, 2013
- Trayvon Martin, tragedy and injustice - July 14, 2013
- Republican hangover: it’s not the message, it’s the messenger - November 15, 2012