Obama Meets with Russian Opposition

Barack and Michelle Obama in Moscow.  Source: Reuters. 07-07-09On Tuesday July 7th, US President Barack Obama met with representatives of the Russian opposition in Moscow.  The lunch meeting, which took place in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, brought together a wide group of politicians not connected with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.  Notables on the invite list included Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov,  Right Cause chairman Leonid Gozman, and Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin.  Each representative was given five minutes to speak.

Topics of discussion included the new trial against jailed Yukos oil company bosses Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and the US missile defense system.

During his talk, Garry Kasparov presented Obama with a list of opposition figures who have been persecuted and killed recently, as well as a list of prisoners serving politically-motivated sentences in Russia.  (Download Kasparov’s full statement in PDF format here.)

“The US president is prepared to establish relations, not just between the White House and the Kremlin, but between the American people and the Russian people,” Kasparov said at a press-conference after the meeting.

“In my address, I said that the situation with human rights has become worse since Dmitri Medvedev came to power,” Kasparov went on.  “I turned over a brief list of the Russian opposition figures who have been arrested, assaulted or killed in recent years.”

Boris Nemtsov, who jointly leads the Solidarity democratic movement with Kasparov, gave Obama materials on Russian corruption during the meeting, while attorney Yelena Lukyanova presented a list of Russian judges facing persecution for upholding the law.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent politician and former head of the Russian Republican party, told journalists that the meeting was “absolutely open.”

“The subject of the second case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev was raised,” Ryzhkov said, going on to name other topics of dicussions like “journalists and freedom of speech, the subject of political prisoners in Russia, beatings and arrests during opposition meetings.”

The fact that the meeting took place at all was also significant, Ryzhkov said.

“The last US president who met not only with authorities, but with the opposition was Bill Clinton.”