By Mick Krever & Claire Calzonetti, CNN
The Russian-U.S. relationship is, once again, decidedly cold.
Dueling pieces of legislation and the threat of cancelled trips in recent months have been escalating a political tit-for-tat.
A Cold War it is not, but it is certainly enough to make President Barack Obama’s much-trumpeted “reset” in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
“There are issues that we disagree upon,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s longtime spokesman and adviser, Dmitry Peskov, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “But we agree… that our relationship is very much important, and we have to work in order to change the negative trend.”And there certainly is a negative trend.
Last September, Russia kicked out USAID, the American relief agency out of the country. In early December, U.S. President Obama signed a law that targeted Russian human rights violators. Then, just before the new year, President Putin signed a law outlawing Americans from adopting Russian children.
The law, Putin and the Russian parliament said, stemmed from several high-profile cases of abuse by adoptive American parents. Many American adoption advocates decried its passage as vindictive.
“Currently I don’t see any chance that this law is revised,” Peskov said.
Just last week, American insiders said that President Obama may decline a Russian invitation to visit Moscow in the spring.
“Frankly speaking, we don’t have this meeting on our close agenda,” Peskov said. “But we do hope that sooner or later such a visit will be on the agenda, and we will be happy enough to receive President Obama in the Russian Federation.”
Peskov added that he hoped to see President Obama at the annual G20 meeting, which Russia is hosting this September in St. Petersburg.
At issue seem to be two main gripes: Russia believes that the U.S. is trying to meddle in its internal affairs. President Obama believes President Putin is being needlessly obstructionist on global issues like the U.N. Security Council action on the Syrian civil war.
“There are issues of domestic nature,” Peskov said, “that cannot be issues for our bilateral discussion, and that definitely should not be taken as a reason for having or not having the visit of the president of the United States to Russia.”
Massive protests in the streets of Russia’s cities over the past year have drawn worldwide attention – both for their size and the government’s occasionally harsh crackdown.
“Like elsewhere in the world once in a while there are parties and individuals who are protesting against something.” Peskov said. “It’s quite natural that Russia as a state is taking measures, is taking legislative steps, in order to put things in order, in order to establish rules that should be obeyed.”
As for Syria, Russia has frustrated Western powers and the Syrian opposition by its seeming unwillingness to part ways with the Assad regime, which has been waging a two-year crackdown turned civil war.
“Traditionally we have quite good relationship with Syria,” Peskov said. “But let’s not over exaggerate it.”
Ties between the countries in the past decade have diminished Peskov said, pointing out that Assad had never been a frequent visitor to Russia before the civil war .
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov surprised some when, last Saturday, he met with Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of Syria’s opposition. Al-Khatib recently announced that he was now willing to meet and negotiate with representatives of the Assad government.
There has been a bit more cooperation between Russia and the West on the Iranian nuclear issue. This week it was announced that there will likely be another round of talks between Iran, the United States, Russia, and others later this month.
Peskov praised the announcement, but laid out a caution.
“Over-expectations are very dangerous in diplomacy,” he said, but added, “we have to mobilize diplomatic capacity until the last possible opportunity.”
President Obama has begun his second term in office with a clearly domestic-focused agenda; how much “diplomatic capacity” between Russia and the United States is mobilized remains to be seen.