MOSCOW — While acknowledging America’s own imperfections, President Obama on Tuesday challenged Russia’s strong-arm foreign policy and urged his host nation to stop competing and instead join in a “global partnership” of strong nations dedicated to world security.
“In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries,” Mr. Obama said in a graduation address to the New Economic School in Moscow. “The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over.”
He chided Russia over its hard-line stance on former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, which is a possible future entrant into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Georgia, where Russia used military force to support break-away regions last year.
Mr. Obama also warned that if Iran and North Korea are allowed to get nuclear weapons, then the U.N. will lose credibility and “international law will give way to the law of the jungle.”
Mr. Obama spoke in English. His audience, made up mainly of young Russians, received him politely, though they were far from the enthusiastic crowds he’s seen in other countries and in the U.S. Former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was also in attendance.
Earlier, Mr. Obama met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president who many experts say still controls power here.
Mr. Putin said he hoped Mr. Obama would see the two nations passed a “grayish mood” he said has come to characterize U.S.-Russian relations at times.
“With you we link all our hopes for the furtherance of relations between our two countries,” Mr. Putin said before the two men met at the prime minister’s residence.
Mr. Obama was polite in return, saying Mr. Putin had done some good things as president and continues to be influential as prime minister. But his speech, Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Medvedev four times by name, and only mentioned Mr. Putin by title as prime minister.
Some analysts say the American president is trying to boost his Russian counterpart with his actions here.
The speech was a follow to earlier addresses in Prague, in which he called for a world without nuclear weapons, and Cairo, in which he laid out the challenge of western nations and Islam. This weekend Mr. Obama will lay out his vision for the developing world in an address in Ghana.
The Russia speech was designed to lay out a challenge to the U.S.’s most recent global opponent — and call on both nations to work on common goals, rather than compete over divisions.
“I believe that on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation,” he said. “It is not for me to define Russia’s national interests, but I can tell you about America’s, and I believe that you will see that we share common ground.”
Mr. Obama also went out of his way to praise Russian culture and science, though he noted Washington, D.C., residents owe a debt to another Russian — reining NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin, who plays left wing for the Washington Capitals.
“As a resident of Washington, D.C., I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin. I’m very pleased to have him in Washington, D.C.” Mr. Obama said, drawing a laugh from his audience.