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Obama Outlines Vision for Young Russians

U.S. President Barack Obama has told graduates of the New Economic School in Moscow that the future belongs to them. It was a standard phrase frequently used in graduation speeches, to which Mr. Obama attached messages about poverty, nuclear weapons, national sovereignty, and the rule of law. The speech was well-received by the school's students and faculty.

President Obama told New Economic School graduates they represent the last generation born when the world was divided by the Cold War; when people stood on the brink of nuclear catastrophe and competition between America and Russia turned everything from astrophysics to athletics into a zero sum game. Mr. Obama rejected the notion that both countries are destined to be antagonists.

"That is why I have called for a "reset" in relations between the United States and Russia," he explained. "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. It must be a sustained effort among the American and and Russian people to identify mutual interests, and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress," he said.

Mr. Obama said he would not define Russia's interests, but told the audience about America's: nuclear non-proliferation, defeating violent extremists, and global prosperity. He noted, however, that many expectations for peace and prosperity after the Cold War have not been fulfilled.

New Economic School Professor Oleg Zamulin told VOA he agrees with the president's observation that great wealth created since the end of the Cold War has not eliminated vast pockets of crushing poverty.

"I wouldn't say every Russian is better off than 20 years ago. But I think the country overall is better off, because we are on the right track. I think if we didn't start reforms, if we didn't start market, economic and democratic transition, that our country would be much worse off than it is today," he said.

Zamulin said Mr. Obama was strong and open about the need for rule of law and civil society in Russia, yet did so without naming names. Instead, the president held out the promise of U.S.-Russian cooperation in new energy sources and combating climate change. He also noted that government can promote this cooperation, but individuals must advance it.

"Because the greatest resource of any nation in the 21st century is you. It's people. It's young people especially," he stressed. "And the country, which taps that resource will be the country that will succeed. That success depends upon economies that function within the rule of law. As President Medvedev has rightly said, a mature and effective legal system is a condition for sustained economic development," said the U.S. president.

Mr. Obama told graduates their lives coincide with an era of transition since the disappearance of old Soviet political and economic restrictions. He said there are no clear answers yet about Russia's future, or about the future of U.S.-Russian relations. Those questions, he noted, will be decided by the graduates and members of their generation in America and around the world.

Anton Smyslov, who completed a Masters in Economics, told VOA that a new generation of Russians is already working to improve their country.

"Some of the graduates from today already work for the Ministry of Economic Development. And I hope, and I'm pretty sure that they are going to make good careers, and they're going to apply the knowledge that the got at NES for the benefit of Russia and the benefit of the whole world," said the graduate.

President Obama recalled that when he was born, racial segregation was still law in America. And 100 years ago, a Czar-ruled Russia and Europe was a place of Empire. Anton Smyslov agreed that the Age of Empire is over, and said Russia must focus on developing as a nation.

"I can't understand some actions of the present government. Maybe we don't like if someone tries to influence Ukraine and Georgia, but if independence is indeed what is good for all of the countries, they have to be independent from both the U.S. and Russia," Smyslov said.

The Kremlin has resented NATO expansion and opposes Ukrainian and Georgian membership in the alliance. Mr. Obama noted in his address that for any country to become a NATO member, a majority of its people must choose to; they must undertake reforms; and must contribute to the alliance mission.

The president also held out the vision of a future that can be built if Americans and Russians refuse to be burdened by old obstacles and old suspicions. Together, he said, both nations can build a world where power serves progress.