President Barack Obama has cancelled plans to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month in a rare diplomatic snub.
The move is retribution for Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who is accused of leaking top secret information about National Security Agency surveillance programmes.
A White House official yesterday said Mr Obama still attends to plan the G20 economic summit in St Petersburg later this year, but has no plans for a one-to-one meeting with Mr Putin.
Mr Obama said on Tuesday that he was “disappointed” by Russia’s move to grant Snowden asylum for one year. He said it also reflected the “underlying challenges” the US faces in dealing with Moscow.
“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” Mr Obama said in an interview on American television’s The Tonight Show.
Mr Obama and Mr Putin last met in June on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
A White House spokesman said the US told the Russian that Mr Obama believed “it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda”.
Instead of visiting Mr Putin in Moscow, the president will add a stop in Sweden to his early September travel itinerary.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Russia’s decision last week to defy the US worsened an already troubled relationship. With few signs that progress would be made during the Moscow summit on other items on the agenda, Mr Rhodes said the president decided to cancel the talks.
“We’ll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment,” Mr Rhodes said.
Mr Obama’s decision is likely to deepen the chill in the already frosty relationship between the two leaders.
They have frequently found themselves at odds on international issues, most recently in Syria, where the US accuses Mr Putin of helping president Bashar al-Assad fund a civil war. The US has also been vocal about Russia’s crackdown on Kremlin critics and recently sanctioned 18 Russians for human rights violations.
Moscow has accused the US of installing a missile shield in Eastern Europe as a deterrent against Russia, despite American assurances that the shield is not aimed at its former Cold War foe. Mr Putin also signed a law last year banning US adoptions of Russian children, a move that was seen as retaliation for the US measure that cleared the way for the human rights sanctions.
Secretary of state John Kerry and defence secretary Chuck Hagel are still preparing for meetings in Washington tomorrow with their Russian counterparts. Snowden is expected to be on the agenda.