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Why It's a Mistake to Ignore Russia

Why It's a Mistake to Ignore Russia
Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The White House’s decision earlier this month to call off a Moscow summit with Vladimir Putin, but not President Obama’s trip next week to a Putin-hosted meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg, occasioned a rare burst of bipartisan agreement. In Washington, there’s a spreading trope that the Russian leader is making himself irrelevant and the president should not waste time trying to patch things up. After Russia’s decision to extend asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Obama has now declared a “pause” to reassess relations. The president told reporters that Snowden was “just one more” in a list of disagreements, including Moscow’s enabling of Syria and Russia’s abysmal human-rights record (his language was still studiously mild), adding that he hoped over time Putin would recognize that working together was better than “a zero-sum competition.”

For now that’s a remote prospect. The likelihood of a U.S.-led military strike against Syria in response to the regime’s Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack has already deepened the freeze in U.S.-Russia relations. Envoys from the two countries were scheduled to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss plans for an international peace conference on Syria, but that’s been shelved. The Russian foreign ministry is warning that U.S. intervention in Syria’s war would have “catastrophic consequences.”