The rare decision to cancel the talks set for next month came after Obama accused the Russians of slipping back "into a Cold War mentality," in an interview aired late Tuesday. Washington however did not slam the door on cooperation with Russia, noting that a meeting of foreign and defense ministers scheduled for later this week would go ahead as planned in the US capital.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said it was "disappointed" with the decision, saying Washington was not ready to build ties with Russia on an "equal basis," and insisted the invitation to Obama still stands.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while the United States valued what had been accomplished with Russia in Obama's first term, especially on Afghanistan and North Korea, there had not been enough progress to warrant a summit in early September.
"Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, 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," Carney said. "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,' he said.
The White House had for weeks hinted that the summit on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Saint Petersburg was in doubt, as ties with Russia deteriorated. Moscow last week granted a year's temporary asylum to Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor who revealed the existence of US electronic surveillance programs that scoop phone and Internet data on a global scale.
Snowden -- who is facing espionage charges in the United States and whose passport has been revoked -- was last week allowed to relocate to a secret safe house after being marooned in Moscow's airport for five weeks.
Other troublesome issues in the US-Russia relationship include Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a split over how to deal with Iran over its nuclear program. The White House said Obama still planned to attend the G20 summit on September 5-6, and announced he would visit Stockholm before heading to Russia. "Sweden is a close friend and partner to the United States," the White House said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will still meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington on Friday "to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship," the White House said.
In an interview on Tuesday with late-night talk show Jay Leno, Obama said Moscow was still being helpful on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism, but spoke of "underlying challenges" in the relationship. "There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," Obama said. "What I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that's the past, and we've got to think about the future, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to cooperate more effectively than we do."
In Moscow, Putin's top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters it was clear that the Snowden asylum decision had tipped the scales. "This problem emphasizes that the United States, as before, is not ready to build relations on an equal basis," Ushakov said, accusing the United States of thwarting the signing of a bilateral extradition agreement. "We are ready to work further with the American partners on all key questions on the bilateral and multilateral agenda," he added.
The cancellation of the summit, while rare, was hardly surprising. The Americans just didn't see the value of a summit meeting in terms of moving the ball forward on big issues. It's a serious bump on the road, but the fact that the administration is saying 'let's go ahead and have the ministers meet' -- my impression is that they're ready to cooperate where cooperation is possible.
Rarely since the end of the Cold War have relations between Moscow and Washington been as frosty as they are right now. A considerable amount of that is attributable to President Barack Obama's manic attempt to persuade Putin to extradite NSA expert and whistleblower Snowden.
Now that US president commits the error of playing the role of the offended prima donna, Putin would respond kindly and accordingly too. That, in turn, would be disastrous for the flashpoints in this world -- regardless whether it will be Syria, Iran or the withdrawal of troops form Afghanistan, these crisis regions will all become even more incalculable without a minimum of Russian-American cooperation. Right now, Washington needs Moscow more than Moscow needs Washington.
By Guylain Gustave Moke