Russia on Nobel Peace Prize: Obama thawing 'second cold war'

Russians are surprised, but largely welcoming of Obama's prize.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Russia is one place where US President Barack Obama's influence has perceptibly moved the needle away from Bush-era frostiness, dubbed by some a 'second cold war', toward a new dialogue and hopes for better cooperation.

In Moscow, the reaction to the news of Mr. Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize was surprised, but welcoming.

"It's hard to see how he's done anything in a few months that merits a Nobel Prize," says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Yet it seems logical. It reflects the world's support for his promises to move in a new direction, and hope that he will have the strength to see it through."

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Obama has convinced Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to sign on to his vision of working toward a nuclear weapons free world, and the two have pledged to deliver a major new strategic arms reduction treaty by the end of this year. At a Kremlin summit meeting in July, the two leaders hit it off and agreed to a full "reset" of the vexed US-Russia relationship. And last month, Obama appeared to deliver on that pledge by unilaterally shelving Bush-era plans to station antimissile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, which had for several years been the single biggest strategic irritant between Moscow and Washington.

"In recent years, our relations had just been getting worse and worse; it was like a dialogue between the blind and the deaf," says Elina Kirichenko, a North America expert at the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. "But Obama has turned that around. At least he stopped making harsh statements that anger Moscow, and made an effort to understand Russia's feelings and concerns."

But Sergei Mironov, speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, which is analagous to the US Senate, voiced a widespread sentiment that Obama's award is "premature" at best.

"For all his virtues, Obama hasn't been in power long enough for anyone to say with a clear conscience that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize," Mr. Mironov told journalists.

"Probably the award is meant to reflect his colossal potential to influence global affairs. But we have to hope that he will justify it," through his future actions, he added.

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