After yesterday’s handshake deal with Premier Dmitry Medvedev to cut America and Russia’s nuclear warheads by about a third, President Obama went to Medvedev’s dacha to have a family dinner. Then, this morning, he actually got some real diplomacy done by having a private working breakfast with Russian patriarch Vladimir Putin. After that, he gave an inspiring and impactful speech at the New Economic School that was covered widely in the United States but actually broadcast very narrowly across the country and only occasionally translated into Russian. For those citizens who managed to catch it, though, Obama sent some really powerful messages.
• On Russia’s future: “America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia. This belief is rooted in our respect for the Russian people, and a shared history between our nations that goes beyond competition.”
• On Russian-American relations: “There is the twentieth-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. And there is a nineteenth-century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another. These assumptions are wrong.”
• On the nuclear arms race: “America is committed to stopping nuclear proliferation, and ultimately seeking a world without nuclear weapons. That is consistent with our commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is our responsibility as the world’s two leading nuclear powers.”
• On democracy: “By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, to improve constantly, and to grow stronger over time. … If our democracy did not advance those rights, then I, as a person of African ancestry, wouldn’t be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a President. Because at the time of our founding, I had no rights — people who looked like me. But it is because of that process that I can now stand before you as President of the United States.”
• On promoting democracy abroad: “America supports these values because they are moral, but also because they work. The arc of history shows that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not. Governments that represent the will of their people are far less likely to descend into failed states, to terrorize their citizens, or to wage war on others. Governments that promote the rule of law, subject their actions to oversight, and allow for independent institutions are more dependable trading partners. And in our own history, democracies have been America’s most enduring allies, including those we once waged war with in Europe and Asia.”
According to Reuters, which performed a quick poll of Russian opinion leaders, the speech was warmly received by most in its effort to reset relations between the two superpowers, though several thought it could have gone further in its addressing of anti-Americanism outside the West.