MOSCOW — Let other capitals go all weak-kneed when President Obama visits. Moscow has greeted Mr. Obama, who on Tuesday night concluded a two-day Russian-American summit meeting, as if he were just another dignitary passing through.
Crowds did not clamor for a glimpse of him. Headlines offered only glancing or flippant notice of his activities. Television programming was uninterrupted; devotees of the Russian Judge Judy had nothing to fear. Even many students and alumni of the Western-oriented business school where Mr. Obama gave the graduation address on Tuesday seemed merely respectful, but hardly enthralled.
“We don’t really understand why Obama is such a star,” said Kirill Zagorodnov, 25, one of the graduates. “It’s a question of trust, how he behaves, how he positions himself, that typical charisma, which in Russia is often parodied. Russians really are not accustomed to it. It is like he is trying to manipulate the public.”
Others suggested that after decades of social turmoil, Russians were simply exhausted with politics, and had been so often disappointed by Western leaders that they were not inclined to get excited by the latest one. Asked by one Moscow newspaper what they expected to come out of Mr. Obama’s visit, most respondents had the same answer: traffic jams.
Some Obama aides said they were struck by the low-key reception here, especially when compared with the outpouring on some of his other foreign trips. Even Michelle Obama, who typically enjoys admiring coverage in the local news media when she travels, has not had her every move chronicled here.
In the background is the question of race, which Russians view through a complicated prism. For decades, Soviet propaganda hammered home the idea that the United States was an irredeemably racist country, as opposed to the Communist bloc nations. But Russia in recent years has been plagued by racist violence against people from the Caucasus region and Central Asia, as well as other immigrants.
Yet many young Russians, like David Zokhrabian, 21, who recently received a graduate degree in international relations from Moscow State University, said Mr. Obama’s race cut both ways. “Students in Moscow, they are pretty positive about this,” he said. “It’s cool, modern, progressive. All the students know American history, they know about segregation, so it shows us about democracy, how it can be.”
But the same cannot be said for average Russians, he said, adding: “It looks weird to them. They just think that America has gone crazy.”...
....Russians tend to view Mr. Obama not so much with hostility as with indifference. “Despite Russia becoming part of the rest of the world in the last 5 or 10 years,” Mr. Brilev said, “the interesting thing about Russia is that so many things which fascinate the American and European publics are Page 26 stuff here.”