President Obama is in Moscow. He has already met with President Medvedev and will soon met with Prime Minister Putin, who is probably the “power behind the throne.” As David Ignatius has noted, Obama screwed up before he even arrived in Russia when he contrasted his “very good relationship” with Medvedev with Putin’s “outdated” Cold War attitude. This latest instance of Obama rendering judgments from on high (except regarding Iran where they most needed to be rendered) is unlikely to impress either Medvedev or Putin. Rather, both will probably view it as “meddling,” to coin a phrase.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to see what is to be gained from Obama’s visit even under the best of circumstances. Russia is an expansionist, resentful mood and, like the old Soviet Union, asserts all sorts of grievances against the U.S. This puts the U.S. in an impossible position: it cannot secure meaningful Russian cooperation on the important issues, notably Iran’s nuclear program, unless it mollifies the Russian bear; but if it does that, Russia will sense weakness and this will only lead to more mischief.
Under these circumstances, the best thing might have been for Obama not to visit Russia at this time.