Obama, Russia, and the G8

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The World's Gerry Hadden reports on European reaction to President Obama's visit to Moscow. Obama headed straight to the G8 summit in Italy after his meeting with Russian President Medvedev.

LISA MULLINS: President Obama's trip to Moscow will probably find its way into the conversation at that G8 summit. The World's Gerry Hadden reports that the Europeans have more than a passing interest in what Mister Obama said to whom.

GARRY HADDEN: Europeans have listened to Mr. Obama's words closely, eager for his pronouncements on the thorny issues that have weakened the continent's relationship with Russia. Among those issues is the possible expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, where Russia intervened militarily last summer.

BARACK OBAMA: 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. That's why we must apply this principle to all nations, and that includes nations like Georgia and Ukraine.

GARRY HADDEN: Oleg Rebehchuk liked that part of Mr. Obama's speech. Rubehchuk is a former advisor to Ukraine's President Victor Yushenko, a Westward leaning leader eager to join the western military alliance.

OLEG REBECHUK: Russia is very bullying. Not only relations with Georgia but also in relations to the country where I come from.

GARRY HADDEN: Russia has warned against further NATO expansion, saying it would destabilize the region and relations with Europe, and some Europeans want to avoid that at all costs. Countries like Germany and France have tried to halt NATO growth, in part because they depend on Russia for much of their natural gas. Jonathan Steele is a columnist for the London based newspaper, The Guardian. He says NATO expansion eastward has been a bad idea that has backfired, undermining security.

JONATHAN STEELE: Because it makes the Russians very suspicious. It encourages the more anti Russian forces in these countries. I mean, take Ukraine for example, I mean, public opinion polls show that the majority of Ukrainians do not want to enter NATO. And yet continually the government of Ukraine goes on about NATO, the continual efforts by NATO, the NATO secretary general visits Ukraine and so on. Why don't they say, look, let's wait until Ukrainian public opinion is in favor of NATO before we keep on closing this issue? It looks anti democratic.

GARRY HADDEN: Steele says the West should take seriously Russia's call for a brand new security structure, one that includes Russia, Europe and the US. Alain Deletroz agrees. Deletroz is a Russia expert at the International Crisis Group, a think tank in Brussels.

ALAIN DELETROZ: That would be a show of mutual trust. But the question that I raise every time I can with our Russian counterparts, is they have to understand that if they keep saying that they don't trust the west, as they say, we have a problem of trust too.

GARRY HADDEN: In a speech to students at a Moscow business school today, President Obama emphasized another way to rebuild relations

BARACK OBAMA: There is extraordinary potential for increased cooperation between Americans and Russians. We can pursue trade that is free and fair and integrated with the wider world. We can boost investment that creates jobs in both our countries.

GARRY HADDEN: Business as trust builder. Investor Bill Browder says that sounds good, but he suggests Mr. Obama think twice before announcing any new era of trade. He says endemic corruption in Russia will only erode East West relations unless it's cleaned up, and fast.

BILL BROWDER: I think the system is just rotten down to the core. I think that it's corrupt at every different level. And even if you have a few patriots and few honest people at the top, it's impossible to break the back on this corruption. Essentially, Russia needs some type of Elliot Ness type character to go in and clean it all out.

GARRY HADDEN: Browder should know. Just four years ago his London based investment house, Hermitage Capital, was the largest foreign investor in Russia, to the tune of about four billion dollars. But Browder says, that after he accused some major Russian firms of corrupt practices, he was barred from returning to the country. His offices were ransacked and some of his assets seized. President Obama has avoided this sort of direct criticism of Russia on his visit, but he did dedicate part of one of his speeches to lauding the US's freedoms of speech and assembly. Freedoms, he said, that ensure justice and impede abuses of power. For The World, I'm Gerry Hadden.