It's easy to applaud President Obama's decision to cancel the Moscow summit. How Russia acted in reference to Snowden affair was both inexcusable and set a new high for hypocrisy, which will not be easy to beat.
From the point of the White House the decision to call off the summit was probably a no- brainer. A President has only so much political time and capital and needs to choose his or her battles very selectively. The White House had the choice of either going through with the summit and having much of the political space of the next six weeks taken over by criticism of his meeting with Putin or using that space to prepare the public for the budget battles ahead.
The real issue however is not that Obama's job as President was made easier by not having to fight negative public opinion about Russia or that Putin gained domestic political points by tweaking his nose at America over Snowden. The real issue is that Russia matters and matters greatly to U.S. Interests.
Russia has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It has a veto on the UN Security Counsel. It geographically borders most of the major economic and political areas in the world. It is a significant transit route for American supplies to Afghanistan. And of course it is a major energy supplier to Europe are leading trading partner.
Russia matters also because it is politically and economically unhealthy. The current system of government appears to be based more on a philosophy of kleptocracy than democracy with its legitimacy based solely on high-energy prices. It is government of vested interest that cannot tolerate change nor has prepared for change.
Unlike most other countries that suffer the so- called resource curse (having too much of a good thing) if energy prices fall, which they will, the political reaction in Russia on account of its strategic importance will affect us all.
Many would agree that President Obama did the wise thing politically by "postponing" the meeting with Putin. Russia however is not going away. And even though the United States has few direct economic ties with Russia; Russia is still the largest nuclear-armed landmass in the middle of the world and thus a vital interest to the United States.