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Obama and Medvedev: Does Russia have the courage to change?

To become a truly prosperous and democratic nation, Russia must be willing to abandon cultural obstacles to progress. Based on a meeting I had with Russia's president last month, Moscow may not be ready to do that.

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President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today. In their press conference, they talked about Afghanistan, an upcoming G-20 summit, and the World Trade Organization. What they should have discussed also is whether Moscow has the courage to lead Russia into a truly prosperous and democratic future.

Based on a recent meeting I had with Mr. Medvedev, I’m not sure it is.

In Moscow last month, I participated in a symposium on cultural values, cultural change, and economic development dedicated to the memory of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. I left with a strong sense that Russia is at a crossroads. Will it accept the mediocrity of continuing as a Second-World nation, or will it adopt the conditions to become a First-World power?

I essentially put that question directly to Medvedev at his residence. I distributed a chart about Russia (click on the graphic titled "Where Russia lags" at left) and expressed my belief that the indicators were rooted in cultural factors.

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