Obama's decision to cancel the meeting comes in the middle of a game of political chicken between Russia and the United States. This latest low-blow comes in response to Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Obama accused Russia of making the decision to accept Snowden based on Cold War thinking, as if Snowden was a fleeing spy looking to defect to the former-Soviet Union. Obama said last night on Late Night with Jay Leno (see the video above):
There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality and what I consistently say to them and what I say to President Putin is that's the past and we need to think about the future.
The dispute over Snowden is only the most recent antagonistic muscle flexing that the two nations have been engaged in. The United States and Russia have recently been clashing on a whole slate of issues that were cited in the White House's statement on the decision to cancel the meeting:
However, given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda. Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.
Barack Obama is not canceling his plans to attend the G-20 meeting. Hopefully, those talks will lead to a detente of tensions between the two nations before we end up in a second Cold War.