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Obama visits Russia to improve relations

Broadcast: 06/07/2009

Reporter: Scott Bevan

US President Barack Obama has a met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on a historic two-day
visit to Moscow aimed at improving strained ties between the two countries.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: An historic summit between US President Barack Obama and his Russian
counterpart Dmitry Medvedev is currently underway in Moscow.

The overriding goal of Mr Obama's two-day visit is to improve the strained relations between the US
and Russia.

Relations slipped during the presidencies of George W Bush and Vladimir Putin and fell to levels
not seen since the Cold War when Russia went to war against Georgia last August.

While some have high hopes for that much-talked about 'reset button', others caution there are a
lot of issues that need to be sorted out, including nuclear arms reduction.

Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan reports.

SCOTT BEVAN, REPORTER: Just a few hours ago, Barack Obama landed on Russian soil for the first time
as US President in a bid to help relations between the two countries take off once more.

Mr Obama has laid a wreath at the spiritual heart of Russia, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the
shadow of the Kremlin walls, providing the US President with a moment of reflection at the start of
a visit that will be crowded with talks.

Mr Obama is now in the Kremlin for a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev. It's expected to last
up to four hours. There's plenty to talk about, as both sides try to improve their chilly

The thaw began on the sidelines of April's G20 Summit in London.

One topic talked about then, and at the top of the agenda for this summit, is a new agreement to
replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, known as 'Start One', which expires in December.

While both presidents have agreed their nation's nuclear arsenals should be further cut, analysts
say the key issues are by how much and by when.

Professor Victor Kremenyuk, from the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, says after the
shortcomings of Russia's armed forces were highlighted during last year's brief war with Georgia,
the country doesn't want to agree to anything that leaves it weaker.

VICTOR KREMENYUK, INSTITUTE OF US & CANADA STUDIES: The Russian military now, they say, "Yes, of
course we understand the importance of the cuts in this area. But mind that currently our
conventional arm is very weak and what can really support our military positions in the world is
the existence of the nuclear arm. "

SCOTT BEVAN: Professor Kremenyuk doubts there will be any major breakthroughs on arms reductions at
this summit, with Russia still angry about American plans for a missile defence shield in Central
Europe, but a treaty could be in place by December.

President Obama is meeting not only with his Russian counterpart, but also Mr Medvedev's
predecessor and the man widely seen as the country's real leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

MASHA LIPMAN, MOSCOW CARNEGIE CENTRE: It would be wrong not to meet with Putin at all since he is
the top decision maker. So I guess this is a very delicate dance, and Obama should find a way to
dance it.

SCOTT BEVAN: But Mr Obama has used an Associated Press interview to make it clear he won't be
dancing to any old tunes with Mr Putin, who he's criticised for having one foot in the past when it
comes to US-Russia relations.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Putin still has a lot of sway in Russia. And, I think
it's important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that
the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated.

SCOTT BEVAN: During his two days in Moscow, President Obama is also scheduled to meet with
Opposition leaders, who have a very low profile in Russia, as well as human rights groups and
business representatives.

ANDREI KORTUNOV, NEW EURASIA FOUNDATION: If there is a window of opportunity to launch a
breakthrough in the relationship, the time is now, and I don't think that we'll see such an
opportunity in many years to come if we miss this window.

SCOTT BEVAN: But some caution that repairing the relationship will take time.

VICTOR KREMENYUK: Both sides believe that both it is important and it is necessary and it is

SCOTT BEVAN: How much can just one visit realistically push the reset button on US-Russia

VICTOR KREMENYUK: Not very much, of course, not very much. And I don't think, you know, that really
just we are prepared for that.

SCOTT BEVAN: Yet many on both sides believe that any improvement in relations will help make this
visit by Barack Obama even more historic. Scott Bevan, Lateline.