MOSCOW (RPRN) 7/06/2009–U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian leaders, expected to focus largely on arms control. This is a visit that falls neatly into two parts. First, President Obama will consult individually with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.Â Then he will focus on improving ties with the Russian people.
In an interview with the Associated Press prior to his departure, Mr. Obama said he has a lot to discuss with President Medvedev.Â Among them: efforts to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – or START – that runs out at the end of this year.
“I think that we are going to be able to get some important business done, setting up a framework for a post START treaty that will bring down the level of nuclear warheads on both the Russian and U.S. sides,” said Mr. Obama.
But President Obama also noted the importance of Prime Minister Putin. He said Putin – the former Russian president – still has a great deal of power.
“I think that it’s important even as we move forward with President Medvedev that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to U.S. Russian relations are outdated,” he said.
But despite the focus on the START agreement, White House officials stress the U.S. Russia relationship in the 21st century must be about far more than arms negotiations.Â Â And they note the second half of the president’s visit to Moscow will include a speech, and a series of discussions with representatives of civil society and the political opposition.
Sarah Mendelson is a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.Â Â She has been working on a project to bring Russians and Americans together in fields ranging from human rights, to affordable housing.
Mendelson says she believes Russians have a lot to learn about Barack Obama and his policies and beliefs.
“I don’t think Russians know very much about him, to be honest,” said Mendelson.Â “And I think even just talking about his personal journey is going to be important because it challenges a lot of the stereotypes that Russians have about who we are and our history.”
Proof of the challenge facing President Obama in Russia can be found in a new survey of Russians conducted by the international polling arm of the University of Maryland.Â It finds that just 23 percent of Russians have confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in international affairs.
Photo credit: President Obama Boarding Air Force1, The White House