President Barack Obama has a lot of uncomfortable stuff to talk about with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the point where he’s reportedly thinking about skipping their next one-on-one visit altogether. Mostly this is about Edward Snowden, who is still hanging around the Moscow airport, hoping he can work out some way to leave there without getting shipped back to the United States. Washington journalists have been wondering aloud whether all this would cause Obama to rethink his planned stopover in Moscow as he heads to the G20 summit in St. Petersberg in September. And on Thursday night, the New York Times reported that “officials said he is now rethinking the Moscow stop, not just because of the impasse over Mr. Snowden but because of a growing sense that the two sides cannot agree on other issues enough to justify the meeting.”
In addition to Snowden, the United States is also pretty displeased with the recent embezzlement conviction of Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, as well as Russia’s ongoing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But Snowden is the big sticking point. “You know that the president and his advisers are asking what kind of a trip he can have to Moscow with such a big gorilla in the room,” Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large in charge of Russia policy, told Bloomberg.
The administration has been noncommittal about the possibility of striking the Moscow leg of the trip: “I can say that the president intends to travel to Russia for the G-20 summit,” Spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday when asked if Obama would take a pass on Moscow. “I don’t have anything to add to what we’ve said in the past about that trip.” If Obama did cancel, it “would be seen as a direct slap at Mr. Putin, who is known to value such high-level visits as a validation of Russian prestige,” the Times reports.
Meanwhile, the content of Snowden’s leak, a secret court order authorizing the NSA’s collection of Verizon customer data, is set to expire at the end of this week, The Guardian reports. Neither the White House nor the Justice Department would say whether they plan to renew it.