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7 Jul, 2009 15:38

Obama & Putin: from critics to friends?

During his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Putin, President Obama promised to take Russia’s opinion about the status of the post-Soviet space into account, as well as to consider Russia’s concerns on missile defense.

US President Obama and Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who were meeting on Tuesday at Putin’s residence outside Moscow, discussed the former Soviet republics, including Georgia and Ukraine.

The meeting took place in a traditional Russian setting and included a samovar tea-drinking ceremony.

Obama made it clear he would take into account Russia's opinion on the situation in Georgia, Ukraine and the CIS as a whole.

“Georgia was discussed, Ukraine was discussed and the former Soviet Union as a whole. The US president promised to take the specifics of our relations with these countries into account,” Russian government office deputy head Yury Ushakov said at a briefing following the talks.

According to Ushakov, Obama also pledged to consider Russia’s missile defense concerns.

“Obama said Russia’s concerns would be given more consideration when discussing missile defense plans,” the Russian government office deputy head told the journalists.

However, Obama didn’t give Putin any concrete promises on the ABM issue.

The Obama–Putin meeting lasted more than two hours instead of the planned 60-90 minutes. Despite previous comments from both sides pointing to a potentially strained meeting, Putin made it clear he had looked forward to his meeting with Obama:

“The history of Russia-US relations has had different periods – there were times when they flourished and there were times of gloomy moods and stagnation. But with your name we associate our hope for a breakthrough in relations between our countries.”

The relations between the countries have been tense for several years now and both sides note they are eager to use Obama’s visit as a launch pad for improving ties and developing cooperation.

The US leader has highly commended the work done by Putin during his tenure as president and as premier.

“I’m aware not only of the extraordinary work that you’ve done on behalf of the Russian people in your previous role as president and in your current role as prime minister. We think there’s an excellent opportunity to put US-Russia relations on a much stronger footing. We may not agree about everything, but I think we can have a tone of mutual respect and consultation that will serve both Russian and the American people well.”

Earlier Obama criticized the Prime Minister for having only one foot towards the future, while the other remains firmly rooted in a Cold War past. Putin was quick to respond with the statement that he can’t “do the splits”.

However, the fact that the meeting between the two has taken place in Putin’s residence outside Moscow rather than in a formal setting, as well as fine weather in Russia’s capital on Tuesday, may have contributed to a friendly mood to the talks.

Dmitry Peskov, the Prime Minister’s press attaché, gave an interview to RT on the subject and said that everything was pointing to a shift in Obama’s attitude to Putin.

During the interview, Peskov actually took out his phone and showed a text message from his American counterpart. The message reported the words of an Obama spokesman.

“The president is now convinced the Prime Minister is a man of today and he’s got his eyes firmly on the future,” the message read.

“If it’s not the best result, what is it?” Dmitry Peskov added.

On Monday the US leader met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

“They say: ‘Let’s keep punishing them and isolate them’. There’s a lot of advice like that coming towards Obama. He is resisting, but he feels he has to be very even-handed.”