What does Obama’s snub mean for U.S.-Russia relations?

By Ian Bremmer
August 9, 2013

Earlier this week, Barack Obama announced that he won’t be meeting with Vladimir Putin in advance of the September G20 summit in St. Petersburg. That was, at least in part, a response to Russia’s decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum, a move that left the White House “extremely disappointed.” So what will the fallout be? Are the media’s Cold War comparisons appropriate?

No. This episode will have limited impact on an already toxic bilateral relationship that matters increasingly less around the world.

Obama made the right decision — and more importantly, he did it at the right time. By snubbing Putin when he did, Obama will allow Secretaries of State and Defense John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts to work back up from this low-water mark when they meet this week. If he had waited to snub Putin, it would unwind any progress that might come out of the current meetings. Obama clearly understands there is more room for productivity among senior diplomats than between the heads of state, where the relationship has always been icy, and any shortcomings are higher profile.

So the relationship only seems to be getting worse. Despite a very strong first term as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s “reset” with Russia is the biggest policy misstep she made. (Benghazi was far more politicized, but it was not her doing.) I’m surprised this failed diplomacy hasn’t gotten more coverage.

But the problem isn’t U.S.-Russia: it’s Russia itself. (That’s in stark contrast with U.S.-China relations, where there are material issues in the bilateral dynamic itself that make the partnership much feebler than the sum of its parts). Today, the situation in Russia makes unpredictable foreign policy decisions increasingly inevitable. Institutions have been undermined by corruption and a centralization of power at the very top. We see massive brain drain and capital flight. On top of that, Russia’s vast energy wealth is now looking like it will be less useful long-term than had been presumed. That’s in part because of the North American energy revolution that looks set to keep expanding supply. Putin’s response to all of this? Rather than opting for reform, he has decided to double down, tightening his control and letting the budget balloon to levels where ever-higher oil prices are needed for it to be balanced. This shortsighted approach can provide greater stability now, but it just exacerbates the worsening prospects for Russia in terms of diplomacy and economic trajectory down the road.

Don’t read too far into Obama’s snub. It doesn’t change the structural dynamics in a bilateral relationship that is slowly worsening, and slowly fading in importance. The real danger? As the domestic situation in Russia worsens, expect the country to lash out. That’s what happens when decisions are made by one increasingly quixotic (and despotic) individual.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen,  Northern Ireland June 17, 2013.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

11 comments

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Face the reality, Snowden was just a false flag. Everything is about Eurasia and future US presence on this continent vs emerging China backed by Russian military and resources. A few colliding points: Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran= crude oil), South East Asia (Taiwan, Japan).
It is about who will dominate in this area.
Russian military in the interim period (Chinese military weakness) is a stabilizing factor.

US-Russia-China triangle relationship is the most important in 21st century, every player has its S&W.

Like with UK a century ago and earlier with Netherlands, Spain etc. it is a simple change of the dominating superpower.

The major problem I perceive in this situation is an American exceptionalism – the deadliest mental ilness of the latest 20 years.
patients – brainwashed US citizens,
victims – mainly citizens of other nations
Face reality you are ordinary humans, every human life has the same value, even if you think that 1 US citizen = over 1000 of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya citizens.

Posted by Wantunbiasednew | Report as abusive

Here is how I see the Obama foreign policy from Moscow.

The Prime Directive of Obama in the foreign policy: to prevent engagement of the U.S. into new war(s) and to complete the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. By any means.

It was his Prime Directive. It remains the same.
It doesn’t take much effort to involve the States into FOUR wars at the same time:
- in collapsing Iraq;
- in disintegrating Syria;
- in never-changing Afghanistan;
- in Iran approaching the time of leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

To start another war? That’s easy! It doesn’t need much: a good MSM campaign – and here we go!

What, in fact, requires amazing sophistication is to stay away from the rules of engagement – while keeping in mind the interests of the U.S. society, divided as it is.

If you look at the Obama/Clinton’s foreign policy from this stance, you would understand clearly every step they made.

This policy is perfectly understood in Moscow. All PR-prepared “disagreements” are not substantial.
Because the interests of BOTH countries coincide: no new military engagements anywhere

Posted by OUTPOST2012.NET | Report as abusive

It is not only the “snub”, it is the childish and petty remarks by Obama that make this situation so untenable. No diplomacy, no statesmanship – just like a little kid reverting to childish insults when he doesn’t get what he wants. No wonder so many in other countries have no respect for the USA.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

“Obama made the right decision — and more importantly, he did it at the right time. By snubbing Putin when he did, Obama will allow Secretaries of State and Defense John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts to work back up from this low-water mark when they meet this week. If he had waited to snub Putin, it would unwind any progress that might come out of the current meetings. Obama clearly understands there is more room for productivity among senior diplomats than between the heads of state, where the relationship has always been icy, and any shortcomings are higher profile.” Your opinion is an absolute baloney to me, Mr. Bremmer.

Posted by Kailim | Report as abusive

Obama is the ultimate con artist. A clue is him signing the “Monsanto protection Act” to destroy the future health of Americans and the environment while proclaiming himself a “green president” and his nasty hobby of murdering children and families weekly with his Obama drones while proclaiming himself a “peace president”. Obama is a psychopath that conned his way into the presidency.

Posted by MarkDonners | Report as abusive

“reset” was even spell wrong when the “very strong first term Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton” presented the “reset” button to her Russian counter part – incompetence from the beginning = incompetence at the end – 3 more years of Obama incompetence

Posted by justinoinroma | Report as abusive

“North American energy revolution that looks set to keep expanding supply”

Putting your hopes on shale? Read below:

“…we are hearing far too much euphoric talk about 100-200 years of natural gas … ‘, Deborah Rogers, Shale And Wall Street, Was The Decline In Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated?

http://shalebubble.org/wp-content/upload s/2013/02/SWS-report-FINAL.pdf

And

While acknowledging that shale has dramatically reversed “the long-standing decline of US oil and gas production”, this can only:

“… provide a temporary reprieve from having to deal with the real problems: fossil fuels are finite, and production of new fossil fuel resources tends to be increasingly expensive and environmentally damaging.”

Despite accounting for nearly 40 per cent of US natural gas production, shale gas production has “been on a plateau since December 2011 – 80 per cent of shale gas production comes from five plays”, some of which are already in decline.

“The very high decline rates of shale gas wells require continuous inputs of capital – estimated at $42 billion per year to drill more than 7,000 wells – in order to maintain production. In comparison, the value of shale gas produced in 2012 was just $32.5 billion.”

From “Shale Gas Won’t Stop Peak Oil, But Could Create An Economic Crisis”, Nafeez Ahmed Ph.D., http://www.theguardian.com

Posted by pyanitsa | Report as abusive

U.S.-Russian relations did not mean so much that a snub to put those relations on ice until January 2017 really makes much of a difference.

The current U.S.-Russia spat does not approach the most sever category of U.S.-inflicted diplomatic punishment. That category of punish appears to have been inflicted on only two countries since the mid-20th century: Cuba and Iran. Cuba allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles 90 miles away from the U.S. mainland, and Iran took an embassy full of U.S. diplomats hostage and paraded them around on television in blindfolds for more than a year. Since then, Cuba and Iran have experienced what amounts to a diplomatic death sentence,with the suggestion that the status of those countries vis-a-vis the U.S. will not change until the offending regimes are no longer in existence. Russia’s situation is nothing like that, and it continues to have much better relations with the U.S. than the Soviet Union ever did.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Russia is far ahead of us on institutionalized corruption, thus their influence will wain. Populations with no expectation of justice are not very productive. The US is heading that way too, we now have business leaders preselecting elected officials. Our world influence will sink too, we just have a ways to go to catch up to Russia, but I am sure we will.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Much as Iran Bremmer would like to punch holes on Russia, he should remember (actually he pretends to ignore) it is America and the west to bring Russia on board. Be frank Bremmer – America needs Russia more than the other way round. It needs Russia’s co-operation on Iran, Syria. Desperately. So Bremmer, come out of your artificial hallucination (make others feel you are hallucinated) and think of ideas to bring Russia on board. I would like to see more of your articles focus on how to go in this direction hereon.

Posted by Dhirajkunar | Report as abusive

Is the cold war being taken out of the deep freeze?
Having caught a cold war chill I never could quite shake, the current frosty relations between Obama and Putin send a shiver down my spine, as childhood memories of the cold war are quickly defrosted. The deepening mistrust and accusations of lying between the US and Russia feels like deja vu all over again. I recall my suburban towns mid-century July 4th parade that was co-sponsored by those Cold War Crusaders of truth from “The Crusade For Freedom” the privately funded donation drive that raised “truth dollars” to support Radio Free Europe. A visual look at truth and the cold war http://wp.me/p2qifI-1Et

Posted by retroarama | Report as abusive