July 29th, 2013
09:55 AM ET

Will Obama get serious with Russia?

By David Meyers, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Meyers worked in the Bush White House from 2006 to 2009, and later for Senator Mitch McConnell. His work has appeared in the Jerusalem Post, The Washington Times and The Diplomat. The views expressed are his own.

Reports last week suggested U.S. President Barack Obama might be considering cancelling an upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s handling of the Edward Snowden saga. But while President Obama would be right in cancelling the meeting, he should do so regardless of the outcome of Snowden’s asylum application. After all, Putin has given him plenty of reasons to do so already.

For years, the Russian president turned prime minister turned president again has been waging an aggressive attack against freedom and democracy in Russia. He's imprisoned numerous law-abiding opposition figures, rigged elections, and crushed meaningful public dissent. He's also persecuted minority groups, including signing into law a troubling vague and broad law designating “homosexual propaganda” as pornography, and has presided over a system where the wealthy can increasingly literally get away with murder.

At the same time, Putin has helped Bashar al-Assad continue the slaughter in Syria (a conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives), and shielded Iran as it races towards a nuclear weapon and continues to back terrorism.

How has the United States responded to all this? Obama's first-term record on Russia was a mixed bag. He launched a “reset” in ties during which he appeared determined to avoid criticizing Putin at all costs. But the outreach effort produced few tangible results even as Russia went about strengthening alliances with U.S. rivals including China and North Korea.

More from GPS: Welcome to Russian doublespeak

Obama, to his credit, took note and appointed Michael McFaul as U.S. ambassador to Russia. To most Americans, McFaul's appointment meant little. But to Putin, it was a cold, hard slap in the face.

McFaul is a leading advocate of spreading democratic governance and freedom, and Putin was unsurprisingly outraged by the appointment, which came shortly before Russia’s presidential election. Indeed, the Kremlin launched a campaign to discredit and delegitimize McFaul.

Some claim there is little Obama can do to alter Putin's behavior, and that confronting Putin might make the Russian leader even less cooperative on areas of mutual concern. That's true – but only to an extent. The fact is that Putin has shown that he is vulnerable to political pressure, most recently in his decision to allow opposition leader/blogger Alexei Navalny to be released from jail, pending appeal of the five-year sentence he was handed earlier this month.

But another reason to consider applying more pressure boils down to a simple question: What exactly has treading lightly done for the U.S.? Moscow has cooperated on very little of importance for America, and has actually been active in trying to thwart U.S. foreign policy, most notably in Syria. All the while, Washington has lost international respect and standing as we have stood by and allowed Putin to repress his own people.

Of course America isn’t alone in all this – Britain recently admitted it didn’t fully investigate the death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko on its own soil for fear of implicating or embarrassing Putin’s government. But this is hardly a good enough reason for the United States to shy from taking a stand. And even setting aside the fact that the United States has, as a free and democratic nation, a moral obligation to stand up to Putin, there are also strategically expedient reasons for doing so.

Russia has propped up the al-Assad regime and given succor to Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions. It has also been meddling in the affairs of European neighbors, applying pressure, for example, through its stranglehold on gas supplies to the continent. To top it all, Russia also invaded Georgia in 2008, and then pursued a covert political effort to push out the country's democratic, freedom-supporting leader.

So what can Obama do? First, it is more than time for Obama to start speaking out forcefully. Words matter. Second, the administration should support efforts in Congress to punish Putin and his Russian cronies for their abuses. Third, Obama must do a better job of rallying U.S. allies on the international stage to U.S. causes. And finally, President Obama should make clear to Putin that the United States takes a strong interest in promoting democracy – even on Russia’s doorstep in Eastern Europe.

Putin has already claimed that the United States has backed the cause of his domestic opponents. Just this once, Obama should turn Russia’s leader into an honest man.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Russia • United States

soundoff (83 Responses)
  1. profaner vulgar person

    It turns out that even the United Kingdom refused to open hearings in the coroner's court in the case of the late Litvinenko to rid the Kremlin of direct charges in the death of the latter, and not to withdraw from the blow his MI5, MI6 and perhaps Mossad . It also had to come up with this for broadcast on CNN

    July 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      The most likely explanation is much more simple: they do not have the evidence.

      While it is believable that Litvinenko was killed by polonium, who did it and why, or even in a much more looser sense of the question: who potentially might have a motive in killing him will never be established. The key person - Berezovsky is dead. Lugovoi? It is established that he was around. Did he have motive? No, personally not. A hit man? Then on behalf of whom? If not Lugovoi, then may be Kovtun? He also been around, but no personal interest, besides he lost his business and his residence permit in Germany as the result of allegations against him. Berezovsky himself standing behind? At least he had a motive. But he is dead and any investigative leads in that direction go nowhere. All what British can say is that polonium is a very hard to obtain substance, therefore it is a country, not an individual who stand behind it, therefore it is Russia... Therefore it is Putin... If not Putin, then whom? The truth is that the only way to keep this dead-end Litvinenko case alive for "just in case" is to pretend that they know something, but do not tell for secrecy reasons.

      July 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  2. ultorix

    Прочел комменты. Писали только русские?
    I've read all comments. They was written by russians only, isn't it?

    July 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • Andor

      Ultorix, did you use Google translation? T
      "They" requires plural "were", not a singular "was".
      The author is an Israili lackey, but he finally admitted that McFaul is not a "reset architect", but specifically chosen "architect of malcontent". McFaul himself hotly denies it. He was sent specifically to stop Putin being reelected, but he failed miserably. Now all his paid sycophants have to register as "foreign agents", just to be sure "who is who" in the so-called opposition.

      July 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Reply
      • Nauranec

        Do you know Russian language? No?
        Than why you want Russians to know English as native?

        August 1, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  3. aybulat

    Автор насмешил, я паЦталом, как принято у некоторых писать в рунете )))
    Такого количества отборного бреда на единицу статьи мог написать только юморист )
    Честное слово, если бы эту статью Задорнов прочел со сцены, зал (по крайней мере та ее часть, что в теме) катался бы по полу )
    Причем смеяться тут можно не только и не столько над содержимым статьи, сколько над запредельной глупостью ее автора. Не зря он при Буше младшем работал.

    p.s о том, что это дешевая пропаганда уже и говорить не интересно, над неприкращающимся ее потоком теперь можно и нужно только смеятся...

    July 30, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • Andor

      aybulat, зато он МакФола раскрыл, как никто! Сколько раз администрация делала невинную мордочку, заявляя:"Да ведь он – архитектор перезагрузки"!
      А теперь карты раскрыты: прислан был в мутной водичке воду мутить.

      July 30, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Reply
      • aybulat

        Да. Вот об этом я и пишу. Неужели автор настолько глуп, что не понимает этого?

        July 31, 2013 at 2:52 am |
  4. J. McCain

    David Meyers' paranoid delusions and lies are a sign of schizophrenia.

    July 30, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  5. profaner vulgar person

    So many crimes listed blunt writer, he did not even realize that all of this seems to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia and not at all like the international cooperation

    July 30, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  6. Putin

    Обама даже за свой хуй взяться толком не может. У себя порядок наведи сначала. Кукла блять.

    July 31, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
  7. ISKANDER

    Я думаю Обаме место на нарах у нас на зоне. Там ему зеки быстро очко прочистят за поддержку гомиков

    July 31, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
  8. John

    We do not believe that Russia is that bad. Russia should be the new non-NATO USA alliance country, and not S.Korea, not China. It is not correct that Russia helped Bashar al-Assad continue the slaughter in Syria (a conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives), and shielded Iran as it races towards a nuclear weapon and continues to back terrorism - the true enemies in this race are South and North Korea and China.

    July 31, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Анатолий

      Вы же сами устроили бойню в Сирии, кто спонсирует боевиков которые идут против Асада? Каму надо преодолеть кризис за счёт войны в Сирии? И у вас хватает совести обвинять Россию? Да Америка везде и всегда суёт свой нос, а со своими проблемами разобраться не может.

      October 4, 2013 at 9:19 am | Reply
  9. Ted Henza

    Article false, cynical and mean. Why to say lies to the people?

    August 2, 2013 at 9:35 am | Reply
  10. Ted Henza

    Мы – как с разных планет или зомби, неспособные на объективное мышление. Нет будущего у человечества, а тем более у США.

    We – as from different planets or the zombies incapable on objective thinking. There is no future at mankind, and furthermore at the USA.

    August 2, 2013 at 9:48 am | Reply
  11. Александр

    Пиндосы, вы странный народец. Убивать иракцев, устраивать революции.. и т.д. это норма, а запретить развращать детей – плохо. Логика? Вы о ней слыхали?

    August 6, 2013 at 2:35 am | Reply
  12. ladyinred

    Sounds like cold war rhetoric. That's stupid.

    August 7, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
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