U.S., Russia Relations Face Challenges
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Senate majority leader is working with the Democratic president, who says he wants Republican votes, though he hasn't received many. President Obama is also struggling to reach out to key nations overseas. And we'll report next on the strained relationship with Russia.
Mr. Obama made progress in two days of talks in Moscow, but the two sides still face enormous challenges in dealing with each other. Here's NPR's Anne Garrels.
ANNE GARRELS: Twenty-three-year-old Andrei Stebluk(ph) was in the hall when Obama gave the commencement address to graduates from the New Economic School, a bastion of liberal economics and new thinking. For him, it was a great day. But he acknowledges most Russians weren't as excited as he was.
Mr. ANDREI STEBLUK: Russians feel, perceive U.S. as kind of - not an enemy but probably a rival, some kind of potential enemy probably. And I think that these thoughts are still strong.
GARRELS: Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia Global Affairs, was at a post-summit Kremlin reception.
Mr. FYODOR LUKYANOV (Editor, Russia Global Affairs): What I heard from people involved in the negotiations, they were pretty impressed by his sincere willingness to change (unintelligible) relationship. But the level of suspiciousness is very, very high, and it will take time.
GARRELS: While the two sides make progress on arms control and cooperation on Afghanistan, Lukyanov says the American and Russian presidents skirted other important issues, like Georgia and NATO expansion.
Mr. LUKYANOV: For Russia, situation in neighboring territories is crucial, and for the United States, of course, to recognize that Russia has some special rights in that area is absolutely impossible. So that's why I'm afraid that it will be very difficult to achieve anything in that area.
GARRELS: Mr. Obama moved beyond the Kremlin walls to meet with civic groups, opposition leaders and Russian and American businessmen. All face similar concerns: politically-motivated courts, corruption, and a lack of reforms.
Roman Shleynov is a young investigative reporter with Novayagazeta, the opposition newspaper where four reporters have been murdered because of their work. None of the cases has been solved. He says it was important for Obama to talk about the importance of an independent media and the rule of law. But he doesn't expect any changes here soon.
Mr. ROMAN SHLEYNOV (Reporter, Novayagazeta): In the past, foreign leaders also pointed out some strange deaths and some murders. It didn't bring us to some results.
GARRELS: And Shleynov believes conditions for conducting business in Russia will remain difficult for some time, because few among Russia's powerful businessmen are willing to challenge the Kremlin and its bureaucracy.
Mr. SHLEYNOV: They do not allow themselves to criticize power now. Because every word pronounced by them can be the last for their career, for their wealth in Russia.
GARRELS: He says those who could use their influence to push for change are vulnerable because many made their money in the chaotic '90s by questionable means.
Vladislov Kourichin(ph), vice president of Apora(ph), an organization defending rights of small and medium-sized businesses, is less pessimistic. He's encouraged by promises the U.S. will now scrap the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a major Soviet-era trade barrier between the two countries. And he hopes the change in tone between the U.S. and Russia will now allow civic organizations in the U.S. and Russia to have better cooperation and more impact.
Mr. VLADISLOV KOURICHIN (Apora): (Russian spoken)
GARRELS: He says if there's now an atmosphere where the two sides can listen to each other and raise concerns, that's better than nothing.
Anne Garrels, NPR News, Moscow.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.