Observers of U.S.-Russian relations shouldn’t put much stock in the fact that President Obama decided to meet with traditional Russian enemies after cancelling his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Obama administration officials.
A reporter raised the topic during a background briefing with administration officials on President Obama’s trip to the G20 summit next week in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Given the fact that most of the news media focusing on the G20 has had to do with what’s not going to happen, that is the scheduled meeting between Putin and President Obama, is there any significance or symbolism in the fact that he’s talking to all the Scandinavian leaders, including on the issue of defense, as well as today meeting with the Baltic leaders who traditionally have been kind of most anti-Russia?” the reporter asked. “Is there a symbolic message that he’s sending with all these things?”
“The stop in Sweden is the result of a letter of invitation that came from the Swedish Prime Minister some time ago, so we’ve been thinking about making that trip,” a senior administration official replied. “And the cancellation of the Moscow summit is what allowed us to move forward now. But beyond that scheduling consideration, you should read no larger linkage into the fact that now there’s a stop in Sweden on the way to St. Petersburg.”
Obama cancelled the Moscow summit with Putin in response to the Russian government’s decision to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the defense contractor responsible for the largest intelligence leak in American history.
“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on August 7, 2013.
The administration officials emphasized the snub during the briefing. “[T]his is less a visit to Russia than a trip to the G20, which happens to be hosted by Russia,” a senior administration official said. “And at this time there is no bilateral meeting or pull-aside expected between the Presidents. Although, as my colleague explained, the president and President Putin are going to have many opportunities to engage during the course of the G20 session.”
Here’s a fun fact about St. Petersburg that you can tell your friends during the G20 summit: Russian Tsar Peter the Great founded the city in 1703 after he conquered the region during the Great Northern War with Sweden (which, at the time, was a major European power). Russia won a decisive victory at the battle of Poltava in 1709. The war continued until 1721, though. By the end, the Swedish empire was in ruins and Russia was the regional hegemon.