The Corner

Obama Gets a Little More Realistic about Russia

President Obama’s decision to cancel the planned September summit with Russian president Putin is a welcome sign that the U.S. has finally had enough of the Putin regime’s distorted view of reality.

By granting political asylum to the NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Russia is stating that Snowden faces persecution in the U.S. and is entitled to protection in Russia. This implicit claim is made despite the fact that Russia, unlike the U.S., has no rule of law and the authorities are implicated in the killing of opposition figures who, unlike Snowden, exposed genuinely illegal activity by the security services.

When President Obama initiated the “reset” policy, he accepted the notion that the tensions in U.S.–Russian relations were the fault of the U.S. This was the reaction of an administration that attributed all of the failings in America’s bilateral relations to President Bush.

The learning process has been lengthy for President Obama and he has not been well served by his advisers but it appears that Obama finally understands that Russia is not a security partner and will not be one until it is no longer saddled with the Putin regime.

With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. faces a radical Islamist ideological movement dedicated to murder for murder’s own sake. In this respect, the jihadists are closer to the Nazis than the Communists. In defending American civilians against attack from the adherents of this movement, the NSA performs a vital role. By sheltering Snowden and making it that much more difficult for the NSA to assess fully the damage he inflicted, the Russian authorities are putting ordinary Americans at risk.

It is a shame, of course, that it took this blatant show of disregard for the security of the U.S. to convince the Obama administration that they need to view Russia realistically. But superficiality in regard to Russia is a problem for almost every U.S. administration. The irony is that we may get more of the “deliverables” so dear to foreign-policy bureaucrats by treating Russia realistically than with our effusive displays of good will because we will have finally made clear that the U.S. must be treated with respect.

— David Satter is an adviser to Radio Liberty and a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. He was one of the signers of a letter organized by Freedom House calling on President Obama to cancel his scheduled summit meeting with Vladimir Putin.

David Satter has written four books about Russia, including, most recently, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin, now available in paperback. He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.


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