WASHINGTON – Vladimir Putin’s Russia has slid back toward the suspicions and mistrust of the Cold War contest with the United States, U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday, adding that it is appropriate to “reassess” a relationship that has been damaged most recently by the case of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
In a White House news conference, Obama defended his decision to cancel a planned summit in Moscow with Putin next month. Obama blamed Putin, who reassumed the presidency last year, for souring what Obama called a productive partnership forged with former leader Dmitry Medvedev.
“I think we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia,” Obama said of the ex-KGB officer’s return to power last year. “I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues, with mixed success.”
That blunt assessment overshadowed daylong military and diplomatic talks with Russia that both sides called positive.
But Obama said the decision to bow out of the symbolic one-on-one meeting with Putin at the Kremlin reflected much more than U.S. pique over Russia’s decision last week to grant temporary asylum to Snowden. The Russian decision allows the fugitive former NSA contractor to live and work in Russia for up to a year.
Obama cited differences with Russia over Syria and human rights and said it was “probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia’s going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship so that we’re doing things that are good for the United States and hopefully good for Russia as well.”
Still, the tension is nothing personal, Obama insisted. “I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.”
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