In Moscow, Obama charms Russians – but not Putin
Those who heard the US president's speech Tuesday were impressed with his references to Russian literature and his description of the end of the cold war as 'our common victory.'
For some Russians, the fresh accords to limit nuclear weapons and allow the US to resupply its forces in Afghanistan via Russian territory are good developments, but what impressed them most was a US president who speaks as though he actually understands the Russian point of view.
"I never heard any Western leader talk like this before," says Mikhail Troitskiy, an expert with the State Institute of International Relations. "He touched me when he spoke about the end of the cold war as our 'common victory.' And I was amazed to hear him make references to Russian poetry and literature. He seemed to really connect."
Obama: Five ways to improve US-Russian relations
Addressing students at Moscow's New Economic School on Tuesday, the second day of his visit, Obama argued that Russia and the US are "not destined to be antagonists" and that the national interests of both would be best served through cooperation.
He offered five arenas for building a new relationship: stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; combating violent extremism; cultivating economic development; promoting human rights; and fostering international cooperation within the constraints of national sovereignty.
"Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia," Obama said. "The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game. Progress must be shared."
'He draws you into his emotional field'
Few Russians got to see Obama's speech, which was carried live by just one cable news channel, though brief highlights were shown on major evening news programs. But those who met Obama say they were deeply impressed.
"He didn't behave like a leader who declares his ideas to a crowd, but rather like a regular person inviting us to sit down and share his values, his worries, and his doubts," says Mark Urnov, dean of the New Economic School. "I really liked him. It's like he draws you into his emotional field, and you have dialogue."
Putin harder to persuade
Obama practiced his art of persuasion on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over a working breakfast Tuesday morning, with apparently less success. After filling up on smoked beluga and pancakes at Mr. Putin's personal residence, the US president came out of that encounter telling journalists that Putin "is smart, tough, shrewd ... he is unsentimental. He thinks in terms of what's good for Russia and will pursue interests aggressively." [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly identified the animal used to produce smoked beluga. It is a fish.]
Chess champion Kasparov approves of Obama's moves
Later, Obama met with representatives of Russia's beleaguered civil society and political opposition, who have been holding a "civil society summit" in Moscow in parallel with the official Obama visit. They, too, seemed impressed.
"What we see is that the US president is prepared to establish relations, not just between the White House and the Kremlin, but between the American people and the Russian people," chess champion and anti-Kremlin activist Garry Kasparov told journalists after the meeting.
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