It's unclear how much Obama will focus on human rights in Russia, where opposition groups have been excluded from political life. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notably met with rights activists during visits to Moscow.
Taking all that into account, some experts nevertheless say that there's reason to hope for an improvement in relations. Judging by their biographies, Obama and Medvedev may be able to find common ground, says Rose Gottemoeller, a former adviser to Bill Clinton on post-Soviet nations and head of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
"They're really not trapped by the Cold War mentality," she suggests, referring to Obama's coming of age when the Cold War was in its final stages and Medvedev's career path outside the Communist Party or KGB. "Both have the potential to be very pragmatic, very problem-solving."
Representatives from Russia's Foreign Ministry have also sounded a positive note. "We think that this breath of fresh air will lead to a more constructive relationship," said Grigory Garasin, first deputy director at the ministry, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
And outside the political sphere, relations are not so chilly. Russian exports to the United States reached $19.4 billion in 2007, more than double the 2002 figure, while U.S. exports to Russia are expected to top $8 billion in 2008, compared with $2.4 billion in 2002, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. However, Andrew Sommers, president of the organization, says the current geopolitical problems have given some companies second thoughts about following through on projects planned for Russia.
It remains to be seen how much the financial crisis and falling oil prices have slowed Russia's natural resource-fueled boom and whether a weakened Russia might result in a more compliant partner for Obama. Russia's stock markets have fallen about 70 percent since April, when investors became anxious about the security of investments here. While some analysts are predicting bleak times ahead, others believe that the effects of the crisis will be limited.
"Of course we can expect a slowing of growth, but we're not anticipating an explosion of unemployment," said Katya Malofeyeva, a chief economist at Renaissance Capital, a Moscow investment bank. "Our country has the third-largest reserve of foreign currency in the world," she said, which was reported on October 31 to be about a half-trillion dollars.
As for foreign policy, Malofeyeva argues that the economy won't be a moderating factor. "I don't think there'll be any dramatic changes on defense issues."