Obama Quiet, but Not Silent on Democracy in Russia

President Obama has landed in Russia for his first visit to the country as President–let’s hope it doesn’t end like the last one as US Senator, when he was detained with Senator Lieberman at a regional airport after a nuclear missile inspection. That was later called a ‘misunderstanding’ by the Russians; apparently, there are a lot of them according to responses on the New York Times Russian language blog, where Russians were asked to explain what Americans do not understand about Russia. Money quote:

Well, Americans will never be able to understand us, because you are stuck in the cocoon of your mass media, which always depicts Russians as the enemies of America.

Also according to the Times, Russian TV outlets, whose content is heavily influenced by the Kremlin, have backed off criticism of the US during the summit, partly by keeping anti-US agitators like Mikhail Leontyev off the airwaves. Still, according to Levada Center polling data, only 36 percent of Russians view the United States positively, while 50 percent view it negatively, a reversal from opinion of the US in the 1990s after the break up of the Soviet Union.

While this meeting is largely about restarting nuclear disarmament talks, it is clearly also meant to move forward Hillary Clinton’s initially bumbled ‘reset’ of the US- Russian relationship, which many argue is at its worst since the Cold War thanks to lingering tensions over last summer’s conflict between Russia and Georgia. Although Obama has been generally quiet about democracy and human rights issues in Russia, he does plan to meet with human rights and civil society representatives during his trip, as well as opposition politician and former chess champion Gary Kasparov. Obama also granted an interview to the often Kremlin-critical Novaya Gazeta, which has had four of its journalists assassinated in roughly as many years, including Anna Politovskaya. While most of the questions posed by Novaya Gazeta dealt mostly with the economic crisis and whether the US was to blame (a common claim by Putin), here is part of what President Obama said about whether the ‘reset’ in US-Russian relations would also include issues of human rights and freedom, in particular resolving the Politovskaya murder:

I also think that Americans and Russians share an interest in strengthening the rule of law, democracy and human rights. To quote my inaugural speech: ‘To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’ Later, speaking in Cairo, I said: ‘I have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights.’ These ideas are shared by your President and your people. I agree with President Medvedev when he says that ‘some freedom is better than no freedom.’ I therefore see no reason why the ‘reset’ in relations cannot include the common desire to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Russia. Comments Off on Obama Quiet, but Not Silent on Democracy in Russia

Comments are closed.