President Barack Obama may cancel a scheduled trip to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin in September as the standoff over the fate of Edward J Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor seeking asylum there, takes its toll on already strained relations between the United States and Russia, officials said Thursday.
Canceling the meeting in Moscow would be seen as a direct slap at Putin, who is known to value such high-level visits as a validation of Russian prestige. While the White House may be using the meeting as leverage to win cooperation as it seeks the return of Snowden to the United States, who is now staying at a Moscow airport. The reconsideration also reflects a broader concern that the two countries are far apart on issues like Syria, Iran, arms control and missile defense.
The conviction on Thursday of Aleksei A Navalny, a prominent leader of the opposition to Putin, on embezzlement charges further underscored the deepening divide between the two countries as the White House pronounced itself “deeply disappointed” at what it called a trend of “suppressing dissent and civil society in Russia.” The verdict and five-year sentence came a week after the posthumous conviction of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer investigating official corruption who was arrested and died in custody.
The talk of human rights rang hollow to the Kremlin given the Snowden case.
Putin has suggested that Washington is being hypocritical in complaining about Russian actions while seeking to prosecute a whistle-blower who exposed US surveillance programs. Putin has also made clear, however, that he does not want the showdown to harm ties. NYT