Snubbing Putin: Obama's cold shoulder won't repair relations

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Russia has given the Obama administration a bad case of the sulks and it's President Vladimir V. Putin's unfriendly behavior that has triggered American petulance. Whatever the provocation, a childish reaction promises no good in the grown-up world of diplomacy.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama canceled a meeting in Moscow next month with Mr. Putin. Mr. Obama will still attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5 and 6, but thereafter he will make a trip of Sweden instead of conferring with the Russian leader. He won't even meet with Mr. Putin at the G-20.

This studied snub is not a total separation from the Russians. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will keep a planned meeting today in Washington, D.C., with their Russian counterparts. That and the decision to attend the G-20 meeting -- which needs U.S. leadership and would have been foolish to avoid -- are small consolations.

The immediate cause of this is Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked secrets of its surveillance programs. But the White House indicated that this affront was just the latest in a long list of issues on which the Russians had refused to be helpful.

Indeed, if this rift was just about Mr. Snowden, it would be more foolish yet. Although he is a source of great irritation to the administration, the other outstanding issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship are far more important than one reckless leaker of secrets. They include the conflict in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, missile defense, possible future cutbacks in nuclear arms and counterterrorism efforts.

Just to list these challenges is to lament the fact that conversations on them will not take place at the level of president to president, where frank talks matter most. Perhaps Mr. Putin does loathe Mr. Obama, as the anti-Americanism inherent in his policies suggest, but giving Mr. Putin the cold shoulder is one more step toward formally reviving the Cold War.

This decision to pass on a critical meeting also amounts to an admission of defeat by Mr. Obama, who came into office promising better relations with Russia and initially had some success. Now, more ill will is the likely result of getting tough with someone who fancies himself a tough guy.



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