“Reset” in US-Russia Human Rights Issues

ResetUS President Barack Obama’s chief advisor on Russia, Michael McFaul, has declared a “reset” on human rights issues in US-Russian relations. Oleg Kozlovsky comments McFaul’s talks with Vladislav Surkov, the architect of Russia’s “managed democracy”:

Michael McFaul is known for his sober and clear understanding of the situation in Russia. He barely has any illusions on what the Russian political system is like. But he does really sound like many realpolitik-infected diplomats, who call on the West to turn a blind eye on Russia slipping down to dictatorship. Is Obama’s administration really going to give the issue of human rights the last priority or how should we understand this “new approach”?

This all ties in with what Paul Goble wrote earlier:

Russian rights activists were angered by three things Kommersant reported, each of which at least in part McFaul and others have suggested the Moscow paper misquoted him or misconstrued his meaning. First, the activists were upset that the NSC staffer had suggested that Washington will refrain from “public criticism” of Surkov’s beloved “sovereign democracy.”

Second, they were angered that the joint commission on civil society would not include NGO representatives. And third, they were angered by the notion — added it should be noted by Kommersant — that McFaul had equated what they do with what Moscow operatives like Andranik Migranyan of the New York-based Institute of Democracy and Cooperation.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, director of Moscow Helsinki Group, was particularly critical:

[I]f America says: “we have democracy, and you can arrange things for yourselves as you like,” then everything the democratic countries have achieved since 1975 will go by the wayside…. [I]f America and the rest of the world will silently watch while freedom of the press is suppressed [in Russia], while meetings and demonstrations are broken up, … while political parties are shackled and elections falsified, … then, in that case, [she said she thought] that the Nobel Peace Prize had been given to Barak Obama prematurely.

Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky (who gave a great speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum) said:

The problem of human rights is directly connected with the problem of international security because countries that ignore human rights are inclined to aggression.

By far the best response was independent journalist Anton Orekh’s:

“[I]n the struggle for changes in [Russian] society, [Russians] can count only on themselves…. No one except us can resolve this problem,” he concluded, and rather than continue to “appeal to the enlightened West” to come and save Russia from itself, “it would be better [for those who care about human rights and democracy] to more actively work with one’s own citizens however difficult such work inevitably is.”

Some things to think about.


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