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Russians Impressed by First African-American President

Many Russians are expressing hope that the election of Barack Obama will improve relations between the two countries. A recent public opinion poll indicated 70 percent of Russians were interested in the U.S. election. Russian television has continued catering to that interest during the presidential transition, reporting many of Obama's appointments, positions, and even his criteria for a dog for his daughters.

Many ordinary Russians have been impressed by Mr. Obama. A journalism student in Moscow named Nastia told VOA that Mr. Obama strikes her as a great speaker. She says his inauguration holds promise for improved U.S.-Russian relations following what she says was a period of neglect under President George Bush. Like many Russians, Nastia is impressed that an African-American is moving into the White House.

Nastia notes that less than a century ago, many people still considered blacks to be slaves, and there were even park benches for whites only in America. But she says, in the course of 100 years there is a black U.S. president. She says many Russians were shocked and surprised by Mr. Obama's election.

According to polls, about 30 percent of Russians did not pay attention to the U.S. election. Lyudmila Ivanovna, a retiree in Moscow is among them because she is disenchanted with politics in her own country. She wonders how Dmitri Medvedev came to be president of Russia, and considers Kremlin politics to be a riddle.

Lyudmila Ivanovna adds that the U.S. and Russian presidents should think more about their own people, and not about ways of doing something bad to others.

Political analyst Andrei Kortunov, president of the Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, says the Obama inauguration is important not only because of its significance for U.S. race relations.

Kortunov says the inauguration heralds the arrival of a politician from a new generation, a 21st century politician. He notes that much is expected of the new president, because the United States is on the brink of crisis and faces many problems, which unfortunately have not been addressed. So he says the inauguration represents hope that America will, in the end, be able to solve those problems.

Kortunov says Mr. Obama would do well to downplay the high expectations being placed on him to avoid disenchantment later.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed a similar view Saturday in an interview with German newspaper editors in Dresden. Mr. Putin said his deepest belief is that bitter disappointments usually result from excessive expectations. Mr. Putin says we need to see what happens in practice.