This belief is rooted in our respect for the Russian people, and a shared history between our nations that goes beyond competition. Indeed, despite our past rivalry, our people were allies in the greatest struggle of the last century. Recently, I noted this in Normandy – for just as men from Boston and Birmingham risked all they had to storm those beaches and scale those cliffs, Soviet soldiers from places like Kazan and Kiev endured unimaginable hardship to repel an invasion, and turn the tide in the east. As President Kennedy said, “no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War.”
As we honor this past, we also recognize the future benefit that will come from a strong and vibrant Russia. Think of the issues that will define your lives – security from nuclear weapons and extremism; access to markets and opportunity; health and the environment; an international system that protects sovereignty and human rights, while promoting stability and prosperity. These challenges demand global partnership, and that partnership will be stronger if Russia occupies its rightful place as a great power.
Yet unfortunately, there is sometimes a sense that old assumptions must prevail – a conception of power that is rooted in the past rather than the future. There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.
Both assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game – progress must be shared.
That is why I have called for a “reset” in relations between the United States and Russia. This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House – though that is important. It must be a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests, and to expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress.
It won’t be easy. It is difficult to forge a lasting partnership between former adversaries, and to change habits that have been ingrained in our governments for decades. But I believe that on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation. 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.