President Barack Obama's refusal to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of September's G-20 summit might not have earned him any friends in Moscow — but is it winning him political points with Republicans in Congress?
Officially, the White House canceled the president's meeting with Putin due to a "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 12 months."
To the press, however, the cold shoulder boils down mostly to one factor: Russia's decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum.
Some Republicans have praised the Obama administration for throwing some shade Putin's way.
"This should help make clear that the Russian government's giving Edward Snowden 'refugee' status is unacceptable," said Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. "Snowden should be sent to the U.S. to defend his actions in a U.S. court of law.”
Royce isn't the only Republican who is talking tough on Russia. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) originally suggested that the United States boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, if the country granted Snowden asylum.
But just because many Republicans don't like Putin and Snowden, however, doesn't mean they are ready to praise Obama.
The office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took the time to call Obama's announcement a big political fail, saying, "The president's signature foreign policy accomplishment from the first term — a reset with Russia — has just collapsed."
Others lambasted the president for not being the alpha dog in this dispute.
"It'd be nice if Russia and the United States could be friendly rivals," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Wednesday on Fox News. "But this relationship, because of weakness, because of the president’s policy of leading from behind, where we don’t have the respect of Russia and, quite honestly, most countries in the world — this has been an utter failure and we need to recognize this and move forward with something far more important than just not meeting with Putin."
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), also speaking on Fox News, expressed a similar criticism:
When you sit down and negotiate with someone like Putin, who is former KGB I would add, you want to have a strong hand and you want to be the dominant personality, and those two things are very important. If they neither fear you nor respect you, it's going to be awfully hard to talk them into letting Snowden come back into the United States ...
Putin looks into the eyes of Barack Obama and he would understand, if there was a strong personality there, a strong leader, and someone who was willing to put out a strategy, he would react to that. But instead, he’s pushing back on the United States…it's hard for us to maintain our image in the world if we let him continue. [The Hill]
Despite the bluster at home, Russian officials have, at least publicly, shown little anger over the canceled visit. That could be due to the fact that the world leaders will talk anyway when the G-20 summit kicks off in St. Petersburg.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has defended Snowden in the past, put the whole ordeal in perspective on Geraldo Rivera's radio show, saying, "We're not at the heights of the Cold War, neither is this the missile crisis, so in the end I don’t think this will be that big a deal."
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