Obama 'Forgot' Human Rights; Russian Wants U.S. off Sidelines

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Obama 'Forgot' Human Rights; Russian Wants U.S. off Sidelines


Byline: Ashish Kumar Sen, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Obama administration's reset of its relationship with Russia has largely failed, and in his second term, the president must press Moscow harder on human rights, which are under threat from President Vladimir Putin, Russian opposition leaders and Kremlin critics say.

The idea [of a reset] was absolutely great; unfortunately, the results have not been encouraging, Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister of Russia from 2000 until 2004, said in an interview during a visit to Washington last week.

In the beginning, the [Obama] administration mostly focused on global security aspects but forgot about human rights, said Mr. Kasyanov, who is co-chairman of the Republican Party of Russia-People's Freedom Party.

At the 2009 Group of 20 summit in London, President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, released a joint statement announcing a fresh start in U.S.-Russian relations. Vice President Joseph R. Biden spoke of a reset in the relationship, but ties between the two countries have become strained by differences over missile defense, human rights and the war in Syria since Mr. Putin succeeded Mr. Medvedev last year.

Mr. Kasyanov said the U.S. must send a clear message to Mr. Putin that he will not get a free ticket on human rights violations.

There is no trust between Putin's regime and the administration in the U.S., and without trust, it is not possible to resolve problems, he said. The problem is the nature of the Russian regime. There can be no progress or positive movement while Putin's regime is in power.

Pavel Khodorkovsky, president of the Institute of Modern Russia, said that, because of the very straightforward realpolitik approach to the bilateral relations, we now don't have a stable foundation to develop the relationship further because the short- to midterm goals of diplomacy have been achieved.

In the past five years, we have seen a [U.S.] policy [toward Russia] that has largely made it difficult to uphold human rights and at least make sure that they are not ignored, he said.

Mr. Khodorkovsky's father, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was once Russia's wealthiest man. He was arrested in 2003, convicted of money laundering and embezzlement, and thrown in prison. Amnesty International describes him as a prisoner of conscience.

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red reset button symbolic of the Obama administration's plans to set bilateral ties on an new course.

After a meeting with Mrs. Clinton's successor, John F. Kerry, in Berlin last month, Mr. Lavrov told Russian news agencies that he hopes the Obama administration will try to play a more constructive role in foreign policy.

The Obama administration is likely to be less engaged with Russia in its second term, some analysts say.

We don't know what the reset of the reset will look like, said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow. Maybe it will be a change of software, maybe it will simply be the same transactional relationship. But because Obama is so engaged in domestic problems, the Middle East, Syria, the rise of China, Russia may be put on the back burner.

The souring of the U.S.-Russian relationship has coincided with Mr. Putin's third term as president.

Since Mr. Putin returned to the Kremlin in May, Russia's parliament, dominated by the pro-Putin United Russia party, has enacted laws that criminalize dissent, impose restrictions on civil society and require nongovernmental organizations that engage in public advocacy and accept foreign funding to register as foreign agents. …

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