Obama reaches out to young Russians

President Obama on Tuesday urged young Russians to set aside old views that their country is destined to compete against the U.S. as he continued to look for the “reset” button on relations between the two countries.

In a speech to the graduating class of Moscow's New Economic School, to whom Obama referred as “the last generation born when the world was divided,” the president pushed the younger generation to look anew on the troubled relationship just hours after a frosty meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries,” said Obama, who declared that assumptions the U.S. and Russia must vie for influence were wrong.

“The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chessboard are over,” he said.

The speech and meeting with Putin, a former Cold Warrior, clearly represented the opportunities and challenges the administration sees as it looks to partner with Russia on critical issues while drawing lines in the sand on others.

To that end, Obama was not shy about his belief that both Georgia and Ukraine should be respected as sovereign nations, an issue that factored prominently into Obama's meeting with Putin.

“State sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order,” Obama said. “Just as all states should have the right to choose their leaders, states must have the right to borders that are secure, and to their own foreign policies. That is true for Russia, just as it is true for the United States. Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy.”

At the same time, senior administration officials suggested Obama has shifted in his views on Putin, who gave up Russia’s presidency last year but continues to be seen as Russia’s leader in his new role as prime minister.

One official said Obama is now “convinced the prime minister is a man of today and he’s got his eyes firmly on the future.” In the lead-up to the Russia trip, Obama said Putin, a former KGB officer, appeared to have one foot in the old way of doing things.

While the two sides announced an agreement to cut nuclear arms, U.S. and Russian officials made no progress on a proposed missile defense system in Eastern Europe opposed by Russia. On Georgia, Ukraine and the missile defense system, Obama “made very clear” that he and the Russians are not entirely on the same page.

“President Obama did not always agree on the logic of what Prime Minister Putin laid out,” one official said.

Later at the school, however, Obama focused more on the cooperative relationship he would like to see between the two countries.

“This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House — though that is important and I've had excellent discussions with both your president and your prime minister,” Obama said. “It must be a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress.”

The president even joked about one Russian all of Washington seems happy to have around.

“And as a resident of Washington, D.C., I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians — specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin,” Obama said of the Washington Capitals star hockey player. “We're very pleased to have him in Washington, D.C.”