The last time Obama was in Russia was in 2005, when then-Sen. Obama was part of a congressional delegation visiting future nuclear weapons sites.
At the time, the president recalled, "you had already started to see the Russian public concerned less with democracy and human rights than they were in consumption and a growing economy." Obama said that "there was a renewed confidence that in some ways had pushed those other issues out to the side."
But in conversations with President Medvedev on this trip, Obama said, he's convinced that "there is a growing recognition that if they want to diversity their economy, continuing to develop the entrepreneurs of the sort that I just spoke to at this graduation, that issues like rule of law, transparency, democracy are going to continue to be important."
Obama predicted that after what he called Russia's "wild swings" since the 1990s, "you're starting to see Russia balance out. And I think that they want to pursue economic growth but I think that they recognize that some of the nagging issues around civil society still have to be fixed."
Turning to domestic issues, the president said that when Vice President Joe Biden recently told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the White House "misread" the economy when planning the stimulus package in January, the president said that "what Vice President Biden was referring to was simply the fact that when we passed he stimulus, we hadn't gotten the full report of the first quarter contractions in the economy that turned out to be way worse than anybody had anticipated."
But the president denied that his economic prescription was wrong because the diagnosis was incomplete.
"There's nothing that we would have done differently," he said. "We needed a stimulus and we needed a substantial stimulus."
Even with an economic assessment that was, in retrospect, overly optimistic, the president said his team knew "there was an economic tsunami coming at us, and we still knew that we were going to need a substantial stimulus," one that would include "tax cuts which you can get out really fast" and "money to states so they're not laying off teachers and firefighters, and police officers at such a rapid pace."
Infrastructure projects were always going to take "six months to eight months to get that money actually into the ground because that's the nature of big infrastructure projects," he said.
In Singapore overnight, White House economic adviser Laura D'Andrea Tyson said that "we should be planning on a contingency basis for a second round of stimulus."
On the issue of a second stimulus package, as some congressional Democrats have proposed, Obama said, "The question that some have argued is, 'Okay, what next?' Maybe you stop the freefall but you still have close to 10 percent unemployment. And, you know, this is something that we wrestle with constantly."
The challenge, the president said, is "that we inherited a big deficit, and it is at a certain point potentially counterproductive if we're spending more money than we're having to borrow."
The president said supporters such as retired Gen. Colin Powell and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who have said they're worried about the massive deficits the Obama administration is creating, have "legitimate concerns. In the mid-term and long-term, we're going to have to get control of that."