President Vladimir Putin is showing U.S. President Barack Obama his displeasure over the criticism of Russian elections and the lack of progress on a planned missile shield by skipping the Group of Eight summit for the first time as president, said Alexei Pushkov, a senior lawmaker.
The U.S. has “nothing to propose” to Putin at this week’s meeting, while “strong handshakes and smiles” are probably not a priority for him as Russia forms a new government, Pushkov, the head of the foreign-affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Russia’s relations with the U.S. are showing strains as Putin begins his third term as president. The two countries have locked horns over missile defense, the future of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Putin has accused foreign powers of financing the biggest anti-government protests in a decade to destabilize Russia, saying that U.S. criticism of a December parliamentary election emboldened the opposition.
“Why does the U.S. think it can be sure the Russian president will pay a visit?” Pushkov said. “The American side thinks it can call the parliamentary election illegitimate, send its ambassador to meet with the radical opposition that shouts ‘Russia without Putin,’ doubt the presidential election and criticize Russian authorities for half a year.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Dec. 6 called for an investigation into “fraud” in Russia’s parliamentary election two days earlier.
Putin, inaugurated for a six-year term last week, in a May 9 telephone call told Obama that he needed to make decisions on the new government and would miss the May 18-19 gathering of world leaders, the White House said. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today submitted his proposals for the new Cabinet to Putin, the Kremlin said on its website.
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, has said the U.S. accepts Putin’s stated reason for skipping the summit. He repeated yesterday that Obama plans to meet with Putin at the Group of 20 meeting next month in Mexico and that he expects to continue working with the Russian leader as he did with Medvedev without letting disagreements undermine the broader relationship.
“We have a comprehensive relationship with Russia that’s built on working together in areas where we agree, and that has borne significant successes,” Carney said at a briefing when asked about tension in the U.S.-Russia relationship.
Putin is set to become the first Russian leader to completely miss a G-8 meeting since the country was included in the group in 1998 after former President Boris Yeltsin helped broker a peace agreement in the former Yugoslavia. Putin became prime minister under Yeltsin in 1999, rising to the pinnacle of power when his predecessor resigned on the last day of the year.
“This official reason could be true, but it’s not the only one,” Pushkov said, adding that Putin would be more likely to attend a G-8 meeting held outside the U.S. “Vague promises to show flexibility on missile defense if Obama gets re-elected” are probably not more important to Putin than domestic affairs, he said.
Obama in March told Medvedev that he will have greater flexibility “after my election” to work out differences over the planned missile-defense system, according to remarks picked up by microphones as the two leaders finished a meeting at a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea.
He also told Medvedev that his next visit to Russia would be after the U.S. presidential election in November, meaning he will skip the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that Putin is hosting in September in Vladivostok. The APEC session is being held at the same time as Obama is scheduled to accept his party’s nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention.
Efforts to improve relations with the U.S. under Obama’s so-called “reset” policy were spearheaded by Putin’s predecessor, Medvedev. Ties have soured of late.
Putin objects to U.S. plans to house parts of a missile shield in eastern Europe, saying it would damage the two countries’ strategic defensive balance. Pre-emptive strikes against the system are possible as a last resort, Nikolai Makarov, chief of the country’s General Staff, said May 3.
Russia is also critical of U.S. positions on opposition protesters in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program, citing the ouster of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi as evidence Western nations are pursuing regime change in the Middle East.
Putin ratcheted up anti-American rhetoric in the run-up to his March 4 election victory, saying the U.S. “wants to control everything” and takes decisions unilaterally on issues vital to the international community.
Russia warned April 26 that it will retaliate against planned U.S. legislation imposing sanctions against Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of anti- corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky after the Obama administration softened its opposition to the measure.
Such a law would be “a gross interference in Russian internal affairs and, of course, it won’t have any positive effect on U.S.-Russian ties, to put it mildly,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s human-rights representative, told reporters in Moscow today.
A meeting between the two leaders probably wouldn’t yield progress on issues including missile defense, Syria and the proposed bill, Pushkov said.
“Russia will insist on the positions it finds important and expects that the U.S. administration will take these positions into account,” Pushkov said. “If they don’t, then Russia will be prepared to downgrade the status of Russian- American relations. That’s what Putin has indicated.”
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