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Published: Sunday, 8/11/2013

COMMENTARY

Obama’s snub of Putin won’t achieve desired results

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE COLUMNIST
Mike Sigov. Mike Sigov.
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After National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’ s identity was revealed, his girlfriend reportedly wrote in her blog that she felt “lost at sea without a compass.”

Mr. Snowden’s Russia--granted political asylum indicated that Washington’s policies toward Moscow have been in that same situation for a while.

Washington’s intermittent threats and pleas to hand over Mr. Snowden have failed, resulting in further leaks that affected U.S. relations with the European Union and Latin America. That inconsistency demonstrates the need to revise those policies.

As Mr. Snowden’s leaks continued while he was holed up in Russia before he gained asylum, it was obvious that Russian security services had copied the data his several laptops contained. After that, it was naive to expect that the Russians would hand him over and let the United States do damage control — unless they were left with no choice. The U.S. Administration, however, did not go beyond threats and pleas — and failed.

The fiasco was to be expected, given the Kremlin’s practices of crashing down on dissidents, persecuting U.S.-sponsored NGOs, and supplying Syria with advanced missile systems.

Days after the news of the asylum broke, President Obama canceled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

But by merely snubbing Mr. Putin, Washington will not accomplish much.

What’s needed is partnering with the European Union in undermining the Putin regime’s international clout as a major fossil fuel exporter, which would affect its domestic viability.

This can be facilitated by the establishment of a U.S.- European free trade zone, with the resulting economic integration of the United States and the European Union. It won’t be too hard then to limit Russia’s fossil fuel export options.

To be sure, China would remain a major buyer of Russia’s oil. China, however, is so dependent on exports to the United States and Europe that — if pressed — it would likely seek alternative sources so as not to alienate the U.S. and its European allies.

But as long as the Kremlin and affiliated corporations enjoy windfall revenues from oil and natural gas exports, Russia can afford the ongoing crackdown on dissidents. However, the Russian powers that be may need an exit once they can no longer afford raising police salaries and handouts to the military and as soon as the revenue trickle to the rest of the populace subsides.

While scoffing at pleas and threats, the Kremlin does understand the language of force, which it doesn’t hesitate to use when it can get away with it.

That includes military force — as witnessed by Georgia, one of Russia's former Soviet vassals, where the Kremlin fought a “little and victorious war” in 2008. As to Russia’s use of its fossil fuel resources, consider another former Soviet vassal, Ukraine, to which the Kremlin temporarily cut natural gas supplies in the winter of 2006 and again in the winter of 2009, causing panic down the pipeline in Europe.

In 2007, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) commented on Mr. Putin, playing off President George W. Bush’s remark in 2001 that by looking into Mr. Putin's eyes he got “a sense of his soul.” What Senator McCain said he saw when he looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes were “three letters: a K, a G, and a B.”

The year now is 2013. It is time the White House caught up with that vision and gave U.S.-Russian relations some priority, which will hopefully translate into some teeth.

Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.

Contact him at: 419-724-6089, sigov@theblade.com, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.



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