When he visits there next week, he should counter Kremlin propaganda by speaking directly to Russians about America's real desires.
Next week, President Obama will travel to Moscow to attend a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He should use that opportunity to engage not only with the government of Russia, but to communicate directly to the Russian-speaking world.
Correctly, the Obama administration has focused on the need to reach out directly to adherents of the Muslim faith. Last month in Cairo, surrounded by hundreds of young people, students, and activists, Mr. Obama eloquently conveyed both America's values and hopes for a better relationship with the Muslim world, a relationship rooted in genuine respect.
As of now, no major speech to reach the hearts and minds of the Russian-speaking world is planned, but it should be part of the president's agenda during his visit to Moscow. Russians, and the vast majority of their neighbors, suffer from a freedom deficit comparable to that experienced by all too many inhabitants of the Middle East. In assessing the state of freedom in the countries of the former Soviet Union – excluding the three tiny Baltic States – the nongovernmental organization Freedom House actually finds lower levels of freedom than in the Middle East.
In most of these countries, including Russia itself, a corrupt ruling elite controls and exploits the country's major resources for its own enrichment. Elections are largely meaningless exercises in which there is no viable competition. And any civil society groups that attempt to engage in politically sensitive topics – like human rights or anticorruption – are stifled, sometimes brutally.