Despite bad blood between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, their meeting on the sidelines of a Group of 20 economic summit in Mexico has not further damaged already sour U.S.-Russian relations.
They can't afford that right now -- not while Mr. Obama is seeking re-election and Mr. Putin is facing growing political dissent at home.
Following the ex-KGB officer's return to the Russian presidency via a blatantly rigged election, those relations spun at every key sticking issue -- from Russia's support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's atrocious regime to Moscow's refusal to play along in heading off Iran's nuclear weapons program to the U.S.-led missile defense program in Europe that the Kremlin insists on seeing as destabilizing the nuclear weapons parity between the United States and Russia.
It is hard to expect relations between the United States and Russia to improve anytime soon -- not after Mr. Obama predictably snubbed Mr. Putin by waiting for a week before making a congratulatory phone call to his Russian counterpart.
Apparently it was done to allow a scandal over the Russian presidential election to blow over. Mr. Putin reacted by standing up the U.S, president, who had moved a recent Group of Eight economic summit from Chicago to Camp David to better accommodate a meeting.
But right now the two leaders need each other for political survival. Hence their declaration of an agreement on the need for a political process to end the bloodshed in Syria -- where Russia has a naval base -- and Mr. Obama's even more general statement that the present tensions in U.S.-Russian relations may be eased.
This, however, may take a long time.
The sticking issues are deadlocked primarily because Mr. Putin is emulating a Cold-War era, zero-sum approach to the United States, "what's good for them is bad for us and vice versa."
Some analysts say that's because of his Soviet upbringing and his KGB past.
They are being naive.
The reason is because Mr. Putin, who by some accounts has amassed an enormous fortune, is leading Russia down to a total autocracy. Appearing soft on the United States simply doesn't fit that course of action.
This is exactly why he has been paying lip service to the need of a political resolution of the Syrian crisis while refusing to help achieve a regime change in Syria. Notably, the Kremlin has resisted the U.S. pressure on the Kremlin to prod Mr. Assad into seeking political asylum in Russia. Instead, Russia continues to arm the Assad regime and help escalate the conflict into a civil war.
That said, Mr. Putin did not want to undermine the Obama policy of a U.S.-Russian relations reset because he understands that it is in his interest that Mr. Obama gets re-elected. Despite the U.S. criticism of human rights abuses in Russia -- to which Mr. Putin is sensitive -- the alternative would be worse for him.
The reason is Russia's dependence on exports of crude oil and natural gas. The country is the world's largest producer of crude and remains the largest exporter of fossil fuels even though the United States has recently overtaken Russia as the world's largest natural gas producer.
So far Mr. Putin has been able to afford running the country virtually as a dictator because high oil and natural gas prices translate into high export revenues.
His fear is that a Republican president may ease the restrictions on the oil industry, which, in turn, would help the United States soon overtake Russia also as the world's largest crude producer and undermine not only Russia's fossil fuel-driven economy but also its influence in the world, including the Middle East, where -- after the Arab spring -- Mr. Assad is Russia's last major ally.
So Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin simply put their relations on hold, until better times.
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6089.