An Obama administration official just confirmed to me that today’s sudden cancellation of President Obama’s anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during next month’s G20 meeting in Russia was in part due to the President’s concerns about the deteriorating gay rights situation in Russia.
The official told me that among the concerns leading to the cancellation of the bilateral meeting with Putin was the worsening human rights situation in Russia, which specifically included the Russian government’s recent crackdown on the gay and trans community.
Just last night on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, President Obama criticized Russia’s crackdown on its gay and trans citizens.
While it goes without saying that Russia’s treatment of NSA leaker Edward Snowden played a large part in the cancellation of the mini-summit, it also has been clear for a while that bilateral relations between the US and Russia have become increasingly strained on a number of issues, including the Syrian civil war and LGBT human rights.
So while no one is claiming that gay rights is the sole, or even lead, reason that the President canceled the Putin meeting, it is hugely significant that the administration is acknowledging that Russia’s draconian crackdown on gay and trans people figured into the President’s calculus at all.
It is not at all clear that the deteriorating gay and trans human rights situation in Russia was sufficiently on America’s radar screen even a few weeks ago.
It most certainly is now.
UPDATE: The White House just released a statement confirming that “human rights” played a part in the cancelation:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 7, 2013
Statement by the Press Secretary on the President’s Travel to Russia
Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September. We value the achievements made with Russia in the President’s first term, including the New START Treaty, and cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. However, given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda. Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States, so on Friday, August 9, Secretaries Hagel and Kerry will meet with their Russian counterparts in a 2+2 format in Washington to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.
The President still looks forward to traveling to St. Petersburg onSeptember 5-6 to attend the G-20 Summit.