US President Barack Obama has cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden asylum. But Obama will still attend the G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Wednesday that the president had decided to cancel his meeting with Putin, in response to Moscow's decision to grant fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden asylum for one year.
"We will still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it's the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment," Rhodes said.
Instead of meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the September G20 summit, Obama will make a stop in Sweden.
Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow after leaking details about secret National Security Agency surveillance programs to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. The State Department subsequently revoked his passport, leaving him stranded in a Moscow airport transit terminal for weeks.
President Putin had refused to extradite Snowden to the US, saying that the two countries do not have an extradition agreement. Putin's top foreign policy aide said on Wednesday that Russia was "disappointed" with Obama's decision to cancel the meeting.
"It is clear that the decision is linked to the situation over the employee of the American special services Snowden, which absolutely was not created by us," Yury Ushakov told reporters.
"This problem emphasizes that the United States, as before, is not ready to build relations on an equal basis," Ushakov said. "We are ready to work further with the American partners on all key questions on the bilateral and multilateral agenda," he added.
US-Russian relations have also suffered recently due to differences over the Syrian conflict. Moscow has been supporting and shipping weapons to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, while Washington has taken the side of certain opposition groups. The US is expected to begin arms deliveries to vetted rebel groups as early as this month.
The US has also been critical of the Kremlin's crackdown on its own domestic opposition. Moscow passed a law last year labeling NGOs who take foreign funding and engage in political activity as "foreign agents."
Recently, blogger and opposition figure Alexei Navalny, for example, was sentenced to five years in prison on an embezzlement conviction in Russia. He's currently free on bail.
The US has imposed human rights sanctions against 18 Russians, while Russia has banned US adoptions of Russian orphans.
'Cold war thinking'
On Tuesday, President Obama criticized Russia, saying that Moscow at times has a Cold War mentality.
"There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," Obama said during an appearance on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
"What I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that's the past, and we've got to think about the future, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to cooperate more effectively than we do," he said.
slk/tm (AP, AFP, Reuters)