"My goal is to see how everything works here," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on his arrival in the United States this week, referring to his plans to build a Russian analog of Silicon Valley in Skolkovo, just outside of Moscow. "This is not a tour."
It often seemed like one -- like a delirious good-will mission. On arrival, Medvedev met with California's action hero turned governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Many residents of our country know you from an earlier stage of your career and of course it generates interest in you," Medvedev told the governor in a looser version of his usual legalese. He had dinner with George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, who greeted a laughing, romping Medvedev on the tarmac in San Francisco, in Russian. He visited Cisco Systems, which waited for his visit to sign a $1 billion agreement to provide networking equipment to Skolkovo. He went to the headquarters of Twitter, where the founders, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, helped him set up his own Twitter feed. With the cameras rolling, he entered his first tweet: "Hello everyone! I am on Twitter, and this my first tweet." The Russian had a typo in it, which, Williams said, made the tweet especially authentic. Everyone applauded.
Medevedev then went to the headquarters of Apple, where Steve Jobs gave him a personal tour -- and the new iPhone, a day before it went on sale. (Back home, Russians joked that this was the sole purpose of the visit.) He visited the American outpost of Yandex, the biggest Russian search engine and darling of the Russian tech industry. He met with native Russians working in the Valley. With characteristically Russian largesse, he had oilman Viktor Vekselberg, head of Skolkovo, agree to pay the $1 million per year necessary for the upkeep of Fort Ross, an early 19th-century Russian fort that is now a state park north of the Bay Area. At Stanford, dressed in jeans, he read his warm remarks off an iPad. He sopped up the San Francisco scenery, tweeting a picture of the view from his hotel room and telling Schwarzenegger, "It's hard to work in such a city."
And the city welcomed him with open arms, applauding, toasting, and smiling at the Russian president. Even with the Belarus gas crisis unfolding in the background, the trip was a lovefest, and the coverage of it in Russia portrayed it as such. Russia Today, the Kremlin's propaganda channel for Western consumption, which often takes a dim view of America, spoke of "the enduring nature of the U.S.-Russian relationship."
The visit to Washington was equally delightful. The State Department sent an early welcome present, finally putting Chechen militant Doku Umarov -- who claimed responsibility for the recent Moscow subway bombings -- on its list of designated terrorists. "We stand in solidarity with the Russian people," Daniel Benjamin, in charge of counterterrorism at the State Department, said in a statement. The two presidents agreed to speed along Russia's long-stalled bid to join the World Trade Organization and closed a deal that would allow the United States to resume poultry exports to Russia. And Obama took Medvedev out for burgers, a testament to their vibrant relationship. (At this writing, Medvedev was only following three people on his new Twitter account: himself, the White House, and Obama.)