Is Russia getting caught up in Obamamania?
It would seem so, according to reports out of Moscow and Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is under way.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — after a sometimes tense relationship with President Bush, particularly over the United States' plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe — appeared to soften his stance on Tuesday.
Putin, who as president oversaw a major increase in defense spending, said in Davos that militarization was no solution, the Times of London reported, and he called on Obama to "co-operate constructively" in international affairs.
“We wish the new team success,” Putin said. “Militarization does not help solve problems. We are against spending more money on military efforts."
The comments came on the heels of a report Tuesday that Russia was backing off a threat to deploy missiles near Poland, a report that may have been aimed at testing President Obama's intent to follow through on Bush's plan for a European missile shield.
And on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke to Obama for the first time by telephone.
"The presidents agreed that, as they were both new leaders from a post-Cold War generation, they have a unique opportunity to establish a fundamentally different kind of relationship between our two countries,” the White House said in a statement released after the phone conversation.
The report on the missile threat came from the private Interfax news agency, which cited an unidentified armed forces general staff official as saying Russia has suspended implementation of plans to deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave because the Obama administration is not pushing hard to build an interceptor site next door in Poland.
A Kremlin official told The Associated Press that the Interfax report erroneously implied that Russia had been taking action, now suspended, to place missiles in Kaliningrad. The official reiterated that Medvedev has said Russia would only send Iskanders there if the U.S. presses ahead with plans for missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.
That policy has not changed, the Kremlin official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter on record.
Defense Ministry officials made similar statements to the state-run ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies.
Still, the initial report sounded like a peace offering in one of the prickliest disputes between Russia and the U.S. under former President Bush. It may have been aimed at eliciting a clear signal from Obama about whether he will press ahead with his predecessor's plans — and encouraging him to abandon them.
Obama has not been explicit in public about whether he would proceed with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. More broadly he has said he supports missile defense but wants to ensure that it is proven to be a reliable system that does not detract from other security priorities.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood reiterated that position Wednesday, saying that "we'll support missile defense, if it's proven to work."
He said the reports from Russia were a "positive development," but that he could not confirm whether they were true and did not know if the United States had been directly contacted by Russia about the matter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.