Obamamania? Not in Russia for presidential visit

MOSCOW Tue Jul 7, 2009 3:03pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attend the Parallel Business Summit at Manezh Exhibition Hall in Moscow, July 7, 2009. Obama said on Tuesday that Russia and the United States should promote transparency and the rule of law to ensure economic growth and investment.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

MOSCOW (Reuters) - For once, the adoring crowds were absent as Barack Obama visited Russia this week.

Feted in many countries as a global superstar and accustomed to rapturous welcomes when he travels at home and abroad, the U.S. president received a more muted response during two days of talks in Moscow.

Instead of cheering crowds lining the streets, Obama's motorcade was greeted with some smiles and waves as it sped through the Russian capital. Most people looked on, showing little reaction.

The cooler reception reflects Russia's testy relations with the United States and the determination of its leaders, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not to be eclipsed by a foreign star as they grapple with an economic crisis that threatens to test their own popularity.

"We are maybe the one country in the world where there is no Obamamania," Sergei Markov, a parliamentary deputy from the ruling United Russia party, told Reuters.

"For us he is not president of the world but the president of the United States of America."

At his first major international event as president in April at the G20 meeting in London, wall-to-wall media coverage greeted Obama. Not so in Russia, where state television provided no live broadcast of his arrival aboard Air Force One Monday.

Tuesday, a major speech by the president at Moscow's New Economic School was greeted with no more than polite applause.

"We have a different way of expression. Maybe it only seems that we're not that excited," said Mikhail Panfilov, 26, a recent graduate of the school, adding he thought the event was "extraordinary."

He suggested that people's busy lives and ignorance of Obama's schedule accounted for the low turnout to greet him. "Russian people have a lot of problems. They have a lot of work. They have no time to go and make crowds."

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Matt Spetalnick, editing by Mark Trevelyan)