MOSCOW – When US President Barack Obama canceled last month’s scheduled summit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he effectively terminated his four-year effort to “reset” the bilateral relationship. The failure of that effort should come as no surprise, owing to its deeply flawed foundations.
While the obvious catalyst for Obama’s decision was Putin’s grant of temporary asylum to the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the bilateral relationship has long been faltering. In 2011, after the US and its allies convinced Russia’s former president, Dmitri Medvedev, not to block a United Nations resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, they launched a full-scale military bombardment of Libya, which helped to bring down the regime – a move that Russian officials called “deceptive.”
Since Putin’s return to the presidency last year, the relationship has deteriorated further, owing to disagreements over arms control, missile defense, and human rights. For example, late last year, the US Congress imposed sanctions against Russian officials implicated in human-rights abuses, prompting Russia to institute a ban on adoptions by American families.
Moreover, Obama and Putin remain at odds over the crisis in Syria. Obama continues to support President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, while Putin has been backing the regime, owing to fear that its collapse would usher in a radical Sunni-led government – or chaos. Farther east, the US and Russia are not cooperating as expected on Afghanistan’s post-war transition.