Reaping what we sow with Russia

August 2, 2013

President Barack Obama’s scheduled trip this fall might be cancelled now that Russia has decided to grant leaker/defector Edward Snowden temporary asylum. On issue after issue, it seems we are now paying a heavy price for 20 years, starting under President Bill Clinton and exacerbated under President George W. Bush, of failing to establish a relationship with Russia that was based on mutual interests and gains – from NATO enlargement under President Clinton to missile defense under President Bush, we have, from their perspective, repeatedly stuck a needle in Russia’s eye.  While Russia is responsible for its own behavior, we should not be surprised when at some point Moscow pushes back and asserts their interests as they define them, not as we think they should.  So, we should have no illusions of surprise when a Russia slowly getting back on its feet makes life difficult for us – and symbolic protestations from Washington will accomplish nothing.  It is worth noting that, if the entire thing were reversed and we had the Russian version of Snowden, we would likely be doing the same thing they are. If Obama wants a reason not to meet with Putin, he should focus instead on the illegitimate imprisonment of Pussy Riot and others, and the state driven harassment of gay people.  Obviously, the wise move for Russia would have been to hand Mr. Snowden over to the United States to face a fair judicial process – something average Russians do not have access to. For a person who claims to be an advocate for rights and freedom, Mr. Snowden is surely in for a big surprise the longer he stays in Russia. Still, if President Obama wants to start rebuilding a relationship that achieves vital goals commensurate to our national interests – including nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, complementing the pivot to Asia, and putting pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear goals, he’d better get on that plane and get busy.  One might ask, where are today’s Kennans? Everything in life can’t be tactical.


Sean Kay, Ph.D. is Director of the Arneson Institute for Practical Politics and Public Affairs, and also Robson Professor of Politics and International Studies Chair at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the author of Global Security in the Twenty-First Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace.