President Obama's cancellation of the summit with Putin demonstrates the extent of the deterioration in American Russian relations. In a short time, the U.S. and Russia have moved from what some in Washington viewed as a hopeful partnership to an adversarial relationship.
The rise of Vladimir Putin, the old KGB hardliner, has dashed the hopes of those who saw a new era for the United States and Russia. The joy and ecstasy which accompanied the destruction of the Berlin Wall have dimmed with time. The hope and optimism, which prevailed during the Gorbachev and Yeltsin regimes, have faded.
No one who has followed the actions of Putin can be surprised that he gave asylum to Snowden. Putin vehemently opposed the American missile defense system for Europe, and the Obama administration agreed to modify it. America's efforts to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons have been thwarted by Russia at every stage.
President Obama made reduction in nuclear stockpiles the centerpiece of his speech in Berlin in June. Mr. Putin has made it clear that he has no interest in even discussing the topic.
In Syria, Putin has shown considerable muscle flexing. Earlier this year, Russia delivered the sophisticated Yakhont anti-ship missiles to the Assad regime. These missiles pose a direct threat to U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean.
In the spring, Russia sent about a dozen warships to the Eastern Mediterranean, the first time they have been there since the early 1990s. This was a classic show of force. Putin's message about Syria was clear: We will fight if you attempt to aid Assad's adversaries with a no fly zone or the shipment of heavy weapons. Was Putin bluffing? It is impossible to read him.
But Putin, who has rebuilt Russia's military, was delivering another message to the United States with the movement of these warships. He was stating that the United States is not the only superpower in the Mediterranean. A resurgent Russia is back and intends to shape events in Europe and the Middle East.
Following these moves came Putin's poke in the eye giving Snowden asylum. "We are extremely disappointed that the Russian Federation would take this step," the administration said. However, against the background of the other Putin activities described above only the incredibly naive and ridiculously optimistic could have expected any other result. Not merely Putin's action with respect to Snowden, but how he did it demonstrates a contempt for and desire to humiliate the United States. Putin didn't immediately grant Snowden asylum. He dangled the issue for weeks yanking the U.S. around in a teasing maneuver.
The Administration's announcement cancelling the summit focused not only on the Snowden issue, but also referred to differences on missile defense, trade, human rights, and approaches to Iran and Syria over the last year. This statement shows that some in the administration recognize the pattern of hostility toward the U.S. that Putin has demonstrated. The "reset" in relations with Russia that Obama had been seeking is not attainable.
At the same time Putin has been reasserting Russia's big power status in the foreign area, he has, despite objections from the U.S., trampled human rights within his country. He has been vanquishing his opponents through mysterious murders and long jail sentences. Stalin would have been proud of him.
On the horizon is an even more potentially devastating Putin move. He has shown an increasing willingness to join forces with China in hostile actions against the United States. For example, Russian Chinese coordination in the U.N. has thwarted action against Syria. Sino Russo cooperation has made it impossible for the U.S. to stop Iran's nuclear development.
The prospect of a Russian-Chinese alliance with adverse implications for the U.S. is the topic of my new novel The Russian Endgame, to be released in September. When I wrote it, some said I was on a flight of fantasy. That is now the reality which we will have to contend with in the next decade. Increasingly, the resurgent Russia under Putin is likely to join forces with a bellicose China.
President Obama said on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno that "There have been times, when they [Russia] slip back into a Cold War mentality." The President was certainly correct in that statement.
Obama added, "And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that's in the past."
Unfortunately, Putin's recent actions demonstrate that the Cold War is not in the past. It has returned with even more dangerous risks for the United States.