Originally Published 2014-01-15 05:24:22 Published on Jan 15, 2014
US President Barack Obama should go to Sochi and send out the message to the world that despite differences, the two countries are together on the issue of terrorism. This would be a diplomatic win for him and resurrect the position of US in the international arena.
Should Obama go to Sochi Olympics?
"Lately, US-Russia relations have been on an all-time low due to disagreements on various fronts, particularly over the issue of Syria, granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Anti-gay rights, Ukraine’s cosiness with EU etc. The recent Islamist attacks in Volgograd, the South-eastern city of Russia, have again turned the world’s attention to the recurring menace of terrorism. Amidst this gloomy situation, Russia is all set to host the 2014 Winter Sochi Olympics to be held next month.

These terrorist attacks are similar to the previous ones which had been carried out by the Islamist militants operating from North Caucasus. Doku Umarov --- the Islamist militant leader from Chechnya has been held as the prime suspect in the Volgograd attacks. Earlier, he had given the call to target the Sochi Olympics 2014. It is believed that the recent bombings could have been carried out to disrupt the Winter Olympics. Overall, this attack was targeted to de-stabilize Russia politically and economically.

One can only hope that the recent events may lead to gradual warming of ties between Russia and US as the issue of terrorism inflicts both the countries. Earlier, both Obama and Putin had agreed to intensify security cooperation for the most expensive Winter Games. The US State department had decided to send an undisclosed number of Diplomatic Security agents to Sochi to help ensure the safety of American athletes, according to the American Embassy in Moscow.<1>

However, the recent decision of the President of US to boycott the Sochi Olympics seems like another dent in the US--Russia relations. This decision on the part of US has been primarily triggered due to the banning of homosexual propaganda by Russia. Recently, Obama announced the American delegation which would be sent to the Olympics and it prominently features two gay athletes, tennis star Billie Jean King and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. This is the latest snub rendered by US to Russia. The question remains whether it is in the best interest of US. During this moment of despair, due to the terrorist attacks, US should show solidarity with not only Russia but also the challenge of terrorism gripping every country today.

There was a brief period of ’reset’ in the US--Russia relations which had its underpinnings in George W. Bush’s regime. The year 2001 was symbolic as US had started its "war on terror" due to the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks on US and it needed Russia’s support in this venture. The major achievements of the reset period were the New START treaty, cooperation on Iranian nuclear program and Afghanistan and the Russian support on the Libyan issue. One can easily see that the reset lacked much depth and was not based on pertinent issues of increased economic engagement between the two countries but skirted around the issues of nuclear disarmament and political rights. Due to this lack in depth of relations, more radical issues have resurfaced time and again and act as major road-blocks in the smooth functioning of US—Russia relations. One should also not forget that US is a constant sore in Russia’s eyes regarding the question of "sphere of influence" in Central Asian region as well as NATO’s gradual expansion towards Eastern Europe.

President Obama’s efforts to improve the foreign relations have not borne much fruit. He had tried to build friendship with the former Russian President Medvedev but with the coming back of Putin the situation has drastically changed. He has been vocal on several issues like the Syrian crisis where Russia put its foot against the use of force. The fundamental difference between the two countries over the perception of "Arab Spring" is palpable. The two countries have largely variant ideologies on important aspects of global issues as well. US believes in the legitimacy to intervene another country on the pretext of humanitarian crisis, whereas, Russia is a strong proponent of upholding the sovereignty of each individual country.

What is required at this moment is negotiations between the two countries and gradual ironing out of the differences. Obama should go to Sochi and send out the message to the world that despite differences, the two countries are together on the issue of terrorism. This would be a diplomatic win for him and resurrect the position of US in the international arena. US had suffered a major set-back in the handling of Syrian crisis when it decided to use force. This is the opportune moment for US to improve its bi-lateral relations with Russia.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: us-russia.org

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.