US President Barack Obama said yesterday Washington wanted a strong, prosperous but also democratic Russia, as he set out his vision of the US relationship with its former Cold-War era foe.
In the most eagerly awaited address of his two-day visit to Moscow, Obama reached out to Russia by emphasizing its place as a “great power,” but also did not shy away from the differences between the two countries.
The speech to students graduating from the progressive New Economic School came as Obama sought to revive ties with Russia bruised by a string of crises over the last decade.
“America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia,” Obama told the audience of more than 1,000 in Moscow. “We recognize the future benefit that will come from a strong and vibrant Russia.”
He acknowledged the difficulties in forming a lasting partnership between the two but said Russia and the US now shared “common interests” on the main issues of the 21st century.
The challenges facing the modern world “demand global partnership, and that partnership will be stronger if Russia occupies its rightful place as a great power,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly been criticized by the West for a lack of full democratic freedoms under former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the new Kremlin chief, Dmitry Medvedev.
“The arc of history shows us that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive,” Obama said. “Governments which serve only their own power do not.”
He also took aim at corruption, widely seen as one of the scourges of Russian society.
“People everywhere should have the right to do business or get an education without paying a bribe,” Obama said.
Obama quoted from Russia’s greatest poet Alexander Pushkin and paid tribute to the country’s sacrifices in defeating fascism in World War II.
He lauded Russian culture, saying its writers had “helped us understand the complexity of the human experience.”
He also said Russia had to respect the sovereignty of its pro-Western ex-Soviet neighbors Georgia and Ukraine and acknowledged Russia’s opposition to the US plan for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
Earlier yesterday, Obama had his first meeting with Putin, who told the US president Moscow was counting on him to improve bilateral ties.
Obama praised Putin for his “extraordinary work.”
Putin told Obama: “We associate your name with the hopes of developing our relations.”
Obama also met former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and was later due to have brief talks with opposition leaders.
Medvedev and Obama on Monday announced a breakthrough deal for US military transit for Afghanistan across Russia and issued a declaration on replacing a key disarmament treaty.
The declaration called for a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years, and the number of ballistic missile carriers to between 500 and 1,100.