Putin used to have three great friends among the G-8 leaders, namely Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and French President Jacques Chirac. All are gone and duly discredited. Berlusconi is facing multiple legal cases. In December 2011, Chirac was convicted of embezzling public funds and given a two-year suspended prison sentence. The Russian state gas giant Gazprom hired Schröder to oversee the construction of a major gas pipeline, Nord Stream, from Russia to Germany immediately after he left office. He had approved it days earlier in one of his last decisions as chancellor in an apparent conflict of interest. Fortunately, none of the current G-7 leaders has any such known record of moral depravation.
Obama needs to stand up to the Putin presidency. To begin with, he must re-establish elementary respect. He allows Putin's thugs to harass his ambassador in Moscow in stark violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. He should simply inform Putin that he will not see him until the abuse of Michael McFaul has stopped. Putin understands such language.
After being snubbed by Putin, the White House stated: "President Obama expressed his understanding of President Putin's decision and welcomed the participation of Russian Prime Minister Medvedev at the G8 Summit." Moreover, they "agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the June 18-19, G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico." Putin will never respect Obama if the U.S. president permits himself to be humiliated like that. This is diplomacy at its most elementary. Obama should have suggested instead that he understood Putin's disinterest because Russia is no longer a democracy and the G-7 no longer has any reason to invite Russia to this democratic club.
International economic organizations are quite another matter. There, Russia should be most welcome. The G-20 is a purely economic club without democratic ambitions, as it includes countries that are far more authoritarian than Russia, such as China and Saudi Arabia.
The United States has rightly welcomed Russia into the World Trade Organization (WTO). But American companies will only be able to benefit from the substantial gains that the WTO can give them if the U.S. Congress grants Russia permanent normal trade relations. Otherwise, WTO rules will not apply to trade between the United States and Russia, and U.S. companies will suffer from higher import tariffs and stricter import rules.
Benefiting from trade with Russia is in America's interests. But it's also very much in U.S. interests to put Russia's leader in his place. In fact, Obama may undermine both congressional support for expanded trade relations with Moscow and sound U.S.-Russia relations through his strange, harmful subservience to Putin.