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Should Obama skip G20 in Russia over Snowden? US foreign policy experts ponder

Should Obama skip G20 in Russia over Snowden? US foreign policy experts ponder
To go or not to go to Russia in September, or how best to snub Moscow over Snowden – US foreign policy experts have met to weigh in on President Obama’s options.

Fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden has invariably punctured the discussion of the panel on US-Russia relations at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank in Washington established by former President Richard Nixon. 

The head of the center, Dmitri Simes, said if Russia does not hand over Snowden [LINK], “the [G20] summit in Moscow will be very difficult to arrange.” Some others at the discussion also mulled the possibility that the US could boycott the world leaders’ meeting in St. Petersburg, because of Snowden.

The deliberations in Washington have not stopped, even after the White House spokesperson assured that Obama will travel to Russia for the summit.

Yet Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer introduced a resolution asking to change the venue for the G20 Summit, in case Moscow does not hand over Snowden.

Some even suggested that, because of the former NSA contractor, the security services of the two countries won’t be able to fully co-operate in preparation for the Olympic Games in Russia next year.

‘Snowden not Russia’s choice, but Russia’s headache’

On the Russian side, Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, said calls to punish Moscow for the problem which the US has created are ‘ridiculous’. He stressed that, because the US government voided Snowden’s passport, it left Russia with no choice but to deal with the issue.

“Snowden is not our choice. It’s our headache,” said Migranyan.

Migranyan also maintained that extraditing Snowden is not an option for Russia, because of the history of Russia’s requests that the US has ignored - including one for the extradition of a man wanted in Russia for terrorism.

Reuters/Thomas Peter

While Russian and US foreign policy experts remain split on Snowden, they all agreed that in the absence of strong economic ties, scandals and political disagreements now define the relations between the two countries.

Daniel Russell, the head of the US-Russia Business Council, said the way forward for the relations is to have more stakeholders on both sides, through trade and investment.

Russia is now the world’s eighth largest economy, and yet trade between the US and Russia is just at $45 billion a year. The US lags far behind other developed economies, particularly from the European Union, when it comes to investing in Russia.

American exports to Russia barely outpace those to the Dominican Republic.

Former US Ambassadors to Russia and Germany, James F. Collins Richard Burt respectively, said Russia is not competitive because its economy lacks diversity.

They also pointed to the outflow of capital from Russia to the tune of $8 billion a month, seeing it as an indication of people’s unwillingness to take the risks of investing in Russia.

Moscow shares the same concerns and has stated its objective to dramatically improve the investment climate in the country.

While on the economy, there’s willingness on both sides to benefit from trade and engagement, on the political front, Moscow would want to see the US less engaged in Russia. Hence, tensions over the Magnitsky Bill and US-sponsored political NGO’s in Russia – both of which Moscow sees as US attempts to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs.