America Discovers the Other Russia

What follows are excerpts from this May 31 address by David Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. It is only a shame that these words were spoken not in Moscow but in Baltimore. Will they be repeated in Heiligendamm, Germany, at the G8 summit June 6-8? Or will the West’s leaders again sit down with Vladimir Putin and pretend he is the democratic leader of a free nation? Summit host Angela Merkel has also made similar statements recently.

Now that Germany and the Bush administration have acknowledged, at long last, that there is something very rotten in Putin’s Russia, the next logical step is to stop helping to cover up the stench. They can help save us from weeks of seeing Putin paraded around on state-controlled Russian television as an equal of the world’s democratic leaders. Steps must be taken to remove Putin’s non-democratic Russia from the G8.

David Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. May 31, Remarks to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs (excerpts)

We want Russia to be a partner in the world. In fact, we want Russia to be strong, and by that we mean a Russia with strong, democratic and independent institutions, both in and out of government.

That includes a strong civil society, free press, an active opposition, genuine elections with real competition between candidates, and a pluralistic political scene backed up and supported by strong and independent middle and entrepreneurial classes. . . .

Suppression of genuine opposition, abridgement of the right to protest, constriction of civil society, and the decline of media freedom are all serious setbacks. They are inconsistent with Russia’s professed commitment to building and preserving the foundations of a democratic state. The State Department has publicly protested the recent police brutality employed to break up opposition marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod, and just the other day in Voronezh. The European Union also protested those actions.

Russian authorities sought to prevent the marches from taking place at all: they denied permission to stage the events or tried to marginalize them by changing their venues. They also harassed and detained Russians traveling to participate in these peaceful rallies; on the day of the events, a disproportionate police presence wielded undue force against the protestors as well as journalists reporting on the events.

And at the EU-Russia Summit just a couple of weeks ago, similar efforts were directed against members of the Russian opposition seeking to express their opinions in Samara. While there was no crackdown at the march itself, where several hundred people protested, organizers and journalists covering the event faced significant harassment. This included officials preventing “Other Russia” activist Garry Kasparov and some 20 others from flying from Moscow to Samara because they might have been carrying “counterfeit” plane tickets. . . .

And the increasing pressure on Russian journalists is likewise troubling. Simply put, a vigorous, independent and probing media is indispensable in a democracy. In Russia today, unfortunately, most national broadcast media-the primary source of news for most Russians — are either in the hands of the government or of individuals and entities allied with the Kremlin.

And one cannot talk about the state of journalism in Russia without making mention of recent attacks on journalists, including the brutal and still unsolved murders of Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya, among others. These brave and talented journalists cared deeply about Russia, wanted to make it a better place, and lost their lives because of those attributes. The Litvinenko case in London, sadly, raises further serious questions about Russia’s record. We believe that Litvineko’s murder was a horrible crime that posed a threat to many others who might have been exposed to polonium, and we strongly support British efforts to bring to justice those who perpetrated this dastardly act.

That all this is happening, that Russia is regressing in these areas, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, may not be entirely coincidental. The Kremlin is bringing its full weight to bear in shaping the environment in favor of its preferred outcome. What is most disturbing is the apparently selective use of the law to disadvantage a number of political parties, for instance by precluding their registration and thus their ability to put forth candidates.

You should know that the U.S. and its European Allies continue to support Russian democracy and civil society. These issues are regularly taken up in our bilateral and multilateral consultations. Capacity building for civil society and support for the rule of law are key priorities in our assistance to Russia.

Bravo Mr. Kramer and Mr. Fried. The Bush administration approved these remarks. In Heiligendamm we will see if they are solid or hollow.

Mr. Kramer also referred to Bush and Secretary Rice’s visits with Russian NGO’s and so-called opposition groups during their visits to Russia in the past year. We ask that next time, when looking for opposition groups to meet with, don’t get the list from the Kremlin.