Shaun Walker: Pushkin – the way to a Russian's heart

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Mr Obama took care to sugar his stern message to Russia yesterday with carefully selected words of praise. His choice of language and compliments showed a canny understanding of how to turn the wounded Russian bear into a sweetly purring kitten.

Before yesterday, he had been involved in some questionable decisions. The famous "reset" button, designed to symbolise a new start in relations, was presented with pomp by Hillary Clinton to the Russian Foreign Secretary, Sergei Lavrov, but the Americans had managed to misspell the Russian word for "reset" so that it meant "overload" instead. Then there was Mr Obama's criticism of Vladimir Putin last week: publicly insulting a man known to take criticism badly and hold a grudge for years seemed a serious misjudgement.

But yesterday it became clear that Mr Obama has been listening to Russia experts, who know exactly which emotional buttons to press. He praised the Russians for their efforts in World War Two – although these events occurred over 60 years ago, Mr Putin has turned victory in the war into something approaching a national idea, and it's a permanent gripe of Russians that the West doesn't recognise the Soviet Union's decisive role in winning the war.

He also dropped in all the right cultural references, exalting Russia's "writers, painters, composers... and scientists". Mr Obama even quoted Alexander Pushkin, a national icon and most Russians' favourite author.

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