From Russia, With Love

Good morning from Russia! Your Gaggler is in a very rainy Moscow awaiting the arrival of President Obama who is scheduled to land here in a few hours. He'll spend the next three days meeting with top Russian leaders, including President Dmitry Medvedev and former president turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Your Gaggler wrote an opus last week going over what this trip is all about. But we'll sum it up again here in just one word: "reset." Obama is hoping to turn the page on what has been chilly relations between the U.S. and Russia in hopes of finding new common goals. But that looks increasingly difficult, given the widening differences between the Washington and Moscow on issues like Iran and the U.S.'s plans for a missile defense shield. Administration officials had hoped to announce significant progress on a the renegotiation of a nuclear arms treaty that Obama and Medvedev announced at their first meeting last April in London. But last night, a senior White House official downplayed those expectations, admitting the negotiations had been "very complicated," in part by the Moscow's opposition to the missile shield. The Russians want the U.S. to drop it. Obama has so far refused. Gary Samore, Obama's point man on weapons of mass destructions, told reporters that that White House is hopeful the presidents will announce "some progress" on a new arms treaty, which would replace an agreement between the U.S. and Russia that expires this December.

Just as he has in Europe and other foreign stops, Obama hopes to bank on his enormous international popularity and bypass foreign leaders to appeal directly to the Russian people. But he won't be able to do that as easily as he has in places like Germany and France. According to a new poll from the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, only 23 percent of Russians polled have "confidence" in Obama, his lowest poll rating in the world. And, believe it or not, that's one of the more positive numbers of the survey, which generally finds Russians sour on Americans.

Case in point: The idea of a "reset" is sort of already a joke in Russia. This morning, reporters who flew here ahead of Obama woke up to a photo of that infamous "reset" button gifted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last March on the front page of the Moscow Times. As you no doubt recall, the very clever Clinton team misspelled the Russian word for "reset" on the button, using "peregruzka," which means "overload," instead of "perezagruska," which is the correct translation. Lavrov laughed and pledged to keep the button on his desk, but somehow it ended up in the hands of the state-sponsored paper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Last Friday and Saturday, the paper set up a both in a local park featuring cardboard cutouts of Obama and Medvedev and allowed tourists and local residents to pose for pictures pushing the "reset" button. The Gazeta and Russian state TV have suggested that locals are "indifferent" to Obama's visit here--though your Gaggler couldn't help but notice the workers getting the Kremlin ready last night. In dismal pouring rain just before sundown--which, by the way, is after 10pm at night--workers could be seen in a park off Red Square physically sweeping the grass with green-colored brooms, as if a single blade couldn't be out of place. Now that's preparation.