WASHINGTON, August 7 (RIA Novosti) - Citing frustration with Moscow’s refusal to hand over fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the White House said Wednesday that US President Barack Obama has canceled a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month – a move the Kremlin quickly criticized as emblematic of US refusal to treat Russia as an equal.
“We have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia Summit in early September,” the White House said in the statement.
“Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship,” the White House added.
The cancelation comes at a time of frayed ties between the former Cold War foes over a range of issues, including Washington’s criticism of Russia’s rights record and the ongoing civil war in Syria, where American support for the armed opposition has angered Moscow and US officials have accused the Kremlin of propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The announcement followed an interview broadcast on national television Tuesday night in which Obama said the Snowden case illustrates “some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately.”
“There have been times where they slip back into Cold-War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” Obama told US late-night talk show host Jay Leno in the interview.
The White House said Wednesday that the meager prospects for bilateral movement on issues such as missile defense, arms control, economic ties, global security and human rights were the impetus for the cancelation of the summit, which had been slated for early next month ahead of the G20 meeting of top world leaders that begins Sept. 5 in St. Petersburg.
But it was only after Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden, who faces espionage charges at home for leaking classified information about US surveillance programs, that US officials publicly indicated the one-on-one meeting was in jeopardy.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, quickly dismissed the White House’s suggestion that issues other than the Snowden case contributed to the decision to scrap the summit.
“It is clear that this decision has been prompted by the situation regarding former US spy agency employee Edward Snowden, [a situation] which was not created by us,” Putin’s top foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, told reporters in Moscow.
Ushakov said Russia is “disappointed” by the cancelation and accused Washington of snubbing Russian proposals in recent years to establish an extradition treaty between the two countries and stonewalling Moscow’s efforts to have individuals suspected of crimes in Russia deported from the United States.
“This problem underscores that the United States is still not prepared to establish relations with Russia on an equal basis,” Ushakov said.
US officials in recent weeks have repeatedly cited cases in which the United States deported suspected criminals to Russia as an example of the type of cooperation that could facilitate Snowden’s return to the United States. The cases made public by the US government, however, have involved low-profile suspects accused of crimes such as fraud, robbery and drug trafficking.
Russian officials recently described a US court’s decision to grant political asylum to former Chechen rebel Ilyas Akhmadov as an example of Washington’s double standards in the Snowden affair.
Putin had said he did not want the Snowden affair to damage Russia’s relations with the United States. US lawmakers and officials, however, have described Moscow’s decision to protect Snowden as a “slap in the face” to the United States and urged Obama to reconsider his entire approach to relations with Russia.
Washington-based Russia analysts told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that the Obama administration had seen few prospects for progress on a range of bilateral issues at the summit even before Snowden touched down at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
“Even before Snowden landed in Moscow, it was not completely clear what was going to be accomplished at the summit, even though at that point they were not thinking of canceling it,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.
Snowden’s asylum in Russia was likely “the final straw” that prompted the US administration to abandon the meeting, she added.
Steven Pifer, senior fellow and Russia expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, told RIA Novosti that if the White House had felt movement was possible on issues such as nuclear reductions, trade relations or US plans for a missile defense system that Russia considers a threat to its security, the summit would still be on.
Both Stent and Pifer said that a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and the two countries’ defense chiefs scheduled Friday in Washington was indicative that US-Russia discussions of concrete cooperation can continue despite the canceled summit.
“This doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and it shouldn’t be,” Pifer said.
Sergei Neverov, deputy speaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Wednesday that the White House decision “above all harms US interests” and that Russia had acted “as any civilized country defending civil rights” would have.
“If this is the reason for the US president to reject a meeting, it just serves to show the weakness and opportunism of the United States’ position,” Neverov said.
The White House said in Wednesday’s statement that Obama would still attend the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg that will be hosted by Putin. It also held out the prospect of a future Obama-Putin summit.
“We have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” the White House said.
Updated with Kremlin response, analysts’ comments, Obama interview with Jay Leno, and details and background throughout.