President Obama admitted on Friday that his relationship with Vladimir Putin has taken a beating following Russia’s decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum. But the U.S. president insisted their relationship isn’t all that terrible.
“I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin,” Obama said of his Russian counterpart during a news conference on Friday. The president added that while Putin often comes across as the slouching, “bored kid in the back of the classroom,” their discussions with each other are simply “candid” and “blunt.”
“When we have conversations together, oftentimes they’re productive,” he said.
The president acknowledged he was able to accomplish more with Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev. That includes signing a landmark nuclear arms treaty, cooperating on Iran sanctions, and helping supply troops in Afghanistan.
Obama said when Putin came back into power, “we saw more rhetoric on the Russia side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old the stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia. I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backward on those issues, with mixed success.”
Indeed, tension between the two world powers has been building. The countries have traded blows over Syria, with the U.S. charging Putin with perpetuating the bloody civil war there. And they’ve clashed over Russian authorities’ crackdown on anti-Kremlin groups and NGOs. Earlier this year, Russia claimed to have caught a CIA spy, once again creating uneasy ties.
Obama said at this juncture, it’s “probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia’s going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship so that we’re doing things that are good for the United States and hopefully good for Russia as well.”
Putin’s latest refusal to extradite Snowden back to the U.S. underscored the icy relationship between the two countries. And in another apparent snub to Obama, Putin sent former President Bush a telegram, wishing him a fast recovery from heart surgery.
Obama noted that while he called off the one-on-one meeting with Putin, he still will attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with their Russian counterparts on Friday as well.
After Russia granted Snowden asylum, some U.S. lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have even gone as far as to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Others have called for a boycott over Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. Obama he didn’t think it was appropriate to boycott the Olympics.
“Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation than you’ve been seeing in Russia, but as I said just this week, I’ve spoken out against that not just with respect to Russia but a number of other countries where we continue to do work with them but we have a strong disagreement on this issue,” the president said.
Obama said he hoped some gay and lesbian athletes would bring home medals. “If Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, it will probably make their team weaker,” he added.