US President Barack Obama described his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as “a bored kid in the back of the classroom,“ amid high tensions between the two countries over a growing number of issues.
However, Obama insisted that he does not have bad personal relations with Putin.
“But the truth is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive,” he said.
Obama’s comments came as senior US and Russian officials met at the State Department to look at areas where cooperation is possible. They said some level of agreement had been reached on military cooperation and the need to push for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated further on Wednesday when the White House announced that President Obama had canceled a September presidential summit with Putin in retaliation for Moscow’s decision to give temporary asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Obama had earlier said he was “disappointed” with the decision and accused Russia of slipping into “a Cold War mentality.”
Obama repeated that line on Friday, saying since Putin’s return to the Kremlin last year there has been “more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia.”
However, Obama sought to downplay the fallout of the Snowden case for US-Russian ties. “Keep in mind that, you know, our decision to not participate in the summit was not simply around Mr. Snowden,” he said at the news conference. “It had to do with the fact that, frankly, on a whole range of issues where we think we can make some progress, Russia has not moved. And so we don’t consider that strictly punitive.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted on Friday that there were tensions between his country and the US but he said bilateral relations have not broken down.
“It’s clear there is no Cold War that we should expect,” Lavrov said in Washington on Friday. “We shouldn’t expect any aggravation.”
US authorities have repeatedly stressed that Snowden, who has disclosed secret government spying programs, must be extradited to the US, a call that has been snubbed by senior Russian officials including President Putin.
Lavrov reiterated Friday that there was no extradition treaty between Russia and the US. He also added that Moscow had acted in accordance with international law in giving Snowden asylum.
In addition to the case of Snowden, US-Russian relations have been severely strained over a host of other issues including the Syrian conflict and Washington’s installing of a missile shield system in Eastern Europe.