“It is difficult to forge a lasting partnership between former adversaries,” Mr. Obama told a graduation ceremony at the New Economic School Tuesday morning in Moscow. “But I believe on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation.”
“There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another,” the president said.
“In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over,” Mr. Obama told the audience, which included former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “That is why I have called for a ‘reset’ in relations between the United States and Russia. This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House, though that is important.”
His speech, which was intended to address concerns of the Russian people, was not broadcast on Russian television, which is largely controlled by the state. Recent public opinion polls show Russians remain wary of the United States and skeptical of President Obama, according to the Associated Press.
In one of the most closely-watched meetings of his Moscow visit, President Obama joined Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for breakfast on Tuesday. It was the first face-to-face between Mr. Obama and Putin, a former president who wields a large amount of power in the Russian government.
The leaders voiced a shared optimism about a new kind of relationship between the two countries.
“With you we link all our hopes for the furtherance of relations between our two countries,” Putin said, according to the Associated Press.
President Obama offered praise of Putin after the meeting, saying “I’m aware of not only the extraordinary work that you’ve done on behalf of the Russian people in your previous role as prime minister – as president, but in your current role as prime minister.”
Before the trip, Mr. Obama raised controversy by offering praise for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev while saying that Putin had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.”
But in Moscow his tone was more positive.
“I found him to be tough, smart, shrewd, very unsentimental, very pragmatic. And on areas where we disagree, like Georgia, I don’t anticipate a meeting of the minds anytime soon,” President Obama told the Fox News Channel.
On Monday, Mr. Obama held meetings with Medvedev. The two leaders announced plans for a follow-up treaty to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that is set to expire in December. They also discussed several tough topics, such as a U.S. missile defense system and Russia’s relationship with neighboring Georgia.
At a joint news conference with President Obama, Medvedev said his country plans to join the World Trade Organization.
“The way (into WTO) turned out to be long, difficult. Quite frankly we have got fed up — 16 years. But we will hope that now a certain reformatting means we will agree as soon as possible,” Medvedev said, according to Reuters.
On Tuesday, he urged a group of U.S. and Russian business leaders to boost trade and promote transparency between the two countries.
“I said that we had made progress but consider this: total trade between our countries is just $36 billion dollars. America’s trade is only about 1 percent of all our trade with the world, one percent, a percent that is virtually unchanged since the Cold War,” President Obama said according to Reuters.
Next on the president’s agenda is the G-8 summit in Italy then a trip to Ghana.