Reporter’s diary: Obama in Russia

Neave Barker looks at Washington’s efforts “to reset ties” with Moscow.

Russian dolls of Obama and Medvedev
Will Obama be successful in revitalising US-Russian ties? [GALLO/GETTY]

It is an unseasonably cold day in Moscow as Air Force One carrying Barack Obama, the US president, touches down. 

Unlike Obama’s other foreign trips, there are no cheering crowds and no media frenzy waiting for him today; his motorcade passes swiftly and unceremoniously into the city centre.

In the heart of Moscow by the Kremlin wall, the US president lays flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Amid the pomp of the US president’s first official visit to Moscow, he gives a silent prayer at the memorial to tens of millions of Russian lives lost.

Russian state media has been portraying the visit as a sign of a new-found respect for Russia. 

In the words of Cai-Göran Alexander Stubb, the Finnish foreign minister, “There is a sense of greatness in Russian history and that’s how Russians feel they should be treated.”

New chapter

But resetting troubled relations is not going to be an easy task as real obstacles still threaten to jeopardise hopes of a fresh start. 

The biggest hurdle is Russia’s opposition to US missile defence plans in Europe and objections to growing US influence in post-Soviet space.

Nevertheless, progress has been made in the area of strategic arms reduction.

Both sides have recommitted themselves to reducing their nuclear stockpiles. They have also signed a framework agreement that will pave the way for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start 1) that expires in December 2009.

While just short of a final deal, the move is a symbolic step toward nuclear disarmament and a warning to other nations heading down the path of nuclear proliferation.


Both sides have also pledged to work together in other areas. Russia will now allow Washington to transport weapons across its territory to aid US efforts in Afghanistan. Up until now, shipments were restricted to no-lethal cargo only.

On Tuesday, Obama meets with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, a man Washington acknowledges as wielding tremendous power in the country.

The US president will then meet with opposition leaders and human rights representatives.

While Obama is out to make friends in Russia he is also taking a robust approach on issues beyond the political arena, but whether Russia will be willing to take advice from the new political kid on the block will only become apparent in the coming days.

Source: Al Jazeera

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