Eyebrows have been raised in both Washington and Moscow with the announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama will not attend
this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in September.
The official reason for Obama's no-show is that the summit, which is to be held in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok on September 1-6, clashes with the Democratic Party's convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, at which he is to accept the party's presidential nomination.
Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement is bound to cause ripples given that it follows hot on the heels of newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision
not to attend a Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Camp David, Maryland, later this week.
Even though both the United States and Russia stressed that this pronouncement should not be interpreted as a snub, it did give rise to all sorts of speculation
, especially as the White House had switched the G8 meeting from its longstanding Chicago venue to the U.S. president's Camp David retreat, seemingly to appear more welcoming to Putin and other leaders.
Despite strong denials from both camps, the White House's latest announcement is bound to spawn rumors and conjecture. Obama's relationship with the new Russian president has been under intense scrutiny, not least because of the latter's much publicized fierce opposition to a planned NATO missile-defense shield in Europe.
The first deputy chairman of Russia's State Duma Committee on International Affairs moved quickly to quash any speculation that either summit withdrawal could be attributed to a rift between the two leaders.
"I know that there are people in Russia and the United States who believe the American president is reacting to the Russian president's position," Andrei Klimov told Russia's state-owned RT news network
"But I personally believe that the official explanations given by both parties are sufficient and there is no need to make any assumptions, fuelling additional scandals," he said.
Nonetheless, even though Klimov stressed that Russia understood and accepted Obama's reasons for not attending APEC, he did seem to suggest that the American leader could have gone to the Vladivostok meeting if he had really wanted to.
"I still believe that the U.S. president technically could have taken half a day to visit the neighboring country and participate in the APEC summit," he said.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was until last week president of Russia, will attend the G8 summit in Putin’s place.
Putin and Obama are still scheduled to finally meet on neutral ground at the sidelines of a G20 summit in Mexico in June.