Posts Tagged ‘international relations’
On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
I’m currently in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a conference organized by Community of Democracies. It’s a loose intergovernmental organization, which includes most democratic countries (and, for some reason, a few undemocratic ones).
Tonight I met, together with a group of activists from other countries, with Hillary Clinton. The meeting itself was off the record, but I may publish what I said.
One of the major problems of the Russian political system is the impunity of those responsible for attacks on activists and journalists. International sanctions directed against these individuals could not only restore justice to some degree but also deter others from participating in persecution. I am pleased to see that Sergei Magnitsky Act that can help implement such a policy is being considered by Congress. I also hope that the European Union will enact similar legislation. I wish the State Department took some steps of its own regarding this issue.
At the very least, those involved in human rights abuses should not receive support from democratic countries. For instance, a number of Western companies, including Cisco and Ernst & Young, are among the sponsors of a large Seliger Forum that will open tomorrow. Its organizer, the former leader of the infamous Nashi group, Vasiliy Yakemenko, is widely believed to be connected, among other things, with the attempt to assassinate journalist Oleg Kashin. I think that a strong statement from US officials could discourage such irresponsible corporate behavior.
I will receive the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award this Thursday and participate in a workshop/round-table discussion at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The discussions will be dedicated to US and European relations with Russia and to the Russian pro-democracy movement and how it was changed by new technologies. If it sounds interesting and you are in Washington, please feel free to come by!
The first panel, After the “Reset:” US and European Approaches to Russia, will start at 2 pm. Michael McFaul, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, Kurt Volker, managing director of Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS, and former US Ambassador to NATO, and Angela Stent, director of Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University will discuss the issue.
At the second panel, Democracy: New Tools for the Struggle (starts at 4 pm), I will discuss how new technologies and new approaches are changing the Russian pro-democracy movement. Daniel B. Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert Guerra, project director for Internet Freedom at Freedom House, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, prominent Egyptian democracy activist, will share their comments.
These days I am participating in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki. By coincidence (well, at least the organizers say it is a coincidence), Dmitry Medvedev and the Finnish President Tarja Halonen are also meeting not far from here. The participants of the Forum used this opportunity to adopt an address to the two:
Dear President Halonen,
Dear President Medvedev,
While you are meeting today in Finland, we, representatives of Russian and Finnish civil societies, are also gathering here to discuss how non-governmental actors can contribute to cooperation between our two nations and to building a common European space based on the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights. We would like to draw your attention to the following concerns, which are in the center of our discussions today.
Like you, dear Presidents, we also want to see Russia a modern and prosperous country. However, we believe that without ensuring fundamental freedoms, building strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary any technological modernization efforts will fail. It goes without saying that free and fair elections and independence of the media are essential to this process.
We want to share with you some of our immediate concerns, which require resolute actions that go beyond declarations.
In particular, we are convinced that the draft law granting new powers to the FSB contradicts not only the Russian Constitution but also recognized international norms. Therefore, it should not be signed by the President of the Russian Federation.
We are extremely concerned about continued persecution of human rights defenders, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in Russia. Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement officials harass civic and political activists, often under the pretext of fighting extremism. This practice must be stopped. Murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers must be effectively investigated, and perpetrators brought to justice. Impunity simply must come to an end.
Lack of fair trial and due process fundamentally undermine access to justice in Russia. This includes torture in pretrial detention centers, politically motivated trials in cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others; persecution of Alexey Sokolov and Oleg Orlov for their human rights work and Valentin Urusov for his trade union activism, as well as the lack of effective investigation of murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. In the case of Magnitsky it is even more blatant because the names of those responsible for his death are well known. This list is by far not exhaustive.
Freedom of assembly continues to be denied to the Russian public. Across Europe we are united in support of Russian activists who convene peaceful gatherings in the framework of ”Strategy 31.” In a week from now, we will again express our solidarity with Russian people in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin and other cities across the continent. We call on you, President Medvedev, to guarantee the freedom of assembly on 31 July and in the future.
We hope, President Halonen and President Medvedev, that these concerns close to our hearts will form an important part of your dialogue and that future Russian-Finnish modernization cooperation will include concrete projects in such areas as building independent judiciary, strengthening the rule of law and developing robust democratic institutions.
I’m sitting in a cafe at Vienna Airport and have a few minutes for a short account of my visit to Washington DC. I was invited there to discuss the most recent Nations In Transit report by Freedom House. According to the report’s findings, Russia has experienced, unsurprisingly, the worst decline of democracy among all 29 post-Communist countries.
Before and after the discussion that took place at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I and Vladimir Milov (a co-author of the famous Putin. The Outcome reports) met with US policymakers, human rights activists and journalists. We shared our views on the current state of affairs and dynamics of the Russian politics and suggested what can the West do to improve it. One of my ideas was to connect the possibility of US investments into Medvedev’s favourite project of Skolkovo with meeting by the Kremlin of certain conditions of rule of law, independence of the judiciary system and real fight against corruption. Both the Russian society and the American business would benefit from fulfilling fulfilling these conditions, and it would be very difficult to argue against them.
Some other ideas are connected with the positive effect that the US high-tech companies can bring about in Russia. Specifically, I’d name two things: a small one and a big one. The small one is introducing Russian-language interfaces and generally promoting in Russia services like Twitter or flickr. The language barrier is still there despite the two decades of globalization, and even renaming the “Tweet” button into “Чирикнуть” could help a lot. Having more international and independent from the government online services would make RuNet freer and more protected against possible abuse.
The big thing is about bringing more Internet, most importantly broadband, to Russian regions. The vast majority of regular Internet users in the country still reside in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other big cities while mid-sized and small towns remain offline. Increasing penetration rate is very important to make the Internet an influential medium, in social and political sense. This task is certainly easier to put than to complete, though.
A few minutes after sharing some of these ideas at the State Department, we learned that 10 men were arrested in the US and accused of spying for Russia (fortunately, I am still at large). Looks like the honeymoon between the White House and the Kremlin is over.
The most brilliant speech that I watched at the Conference on Cybe Dissidents was of Ethan Zuckerman from Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. When talking about how the new technologies changed democracy promotion, he said that now, instead of “parachuting receivers” to citizens of authoritarian countries you should be “parachuting transmitters.” In other words, the new tehcnologies empower people and give them more capacity to improve things from within.
This is very close to my perception of foreign assistance: it shouldn’t be about building democracy from outside, but about bringing tools so that people can build democracy for themselves.
Wall Street Journal published a piece called Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox describing numerous challenges and problems the new American administration faces in its new approach to foreign relations that is, engaging with instead of teaching authoritarian countries. Matthew Kaminski quotes my skeptical comment to the (unintended) outcome of this policy:
How does the new image of America look from abroad? Not always the way Mr. Obama presumably intended. Human-rights activist Oleg Kozlovsky runs Oborona (Defense) in Moscow. “The political culture in authoritarian countries, at least in Russia, is such that if Obama looks for compromise, they won’t answer with good will,” he says. “They see you as weak and push for more. They see it as a carte blanche to repress their own people.” This applies as well to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Perhaps not coincidentally, human rights are deteriorating most glaringly in countries currently deemed “strategic partners” of the U.S. such as China and Russia.
What do you think about Washington’s policy towards Russia? Is it going to work or fail? What should the West do with authoritarian countries?
I met with President Barack Obama today as a part of the 2010 Washington Human Rights Summit. The meeting was attended by about 20 more human rights activists from different countries as well as by the leadership of the National Security Council (James Jones and senior advisors to the President).
Mr Obama said that he had started his own career as an organizer in poor communities and so he believes that the best change always comes from below. He outlined his view of the US policy in regard of promotion of human rights. He mentioned three points about it:
- US government tries to follow their words and values in their domestic policy including the end of torture, closing Guantanamo base etc.
- US government tries to engage not only with the governments but also with civil societies. When American officials visit other counties, especially the ones with authoritarian governments, they always meet human rights activists, and so do their diplomats;
- they understand human rights more broadly than only freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections, and rule of law. They also include economical rights in their scope because if you are starving, you are unprotected.
What I liked about Obama’s way of speaking is his honesty and absolute lack of demagogy. He bluntly stated that human rights is not the only issue that he has to take into account. Security and trade are also important and he can’t help but try to engage the governments in order to achieve result in these spheres. “We make mistakes and we will never achieve the perfect ideal,” he admitted. But he added that the US government needs criticism from human rights defenders so that they get closer that ideal.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect too much practical result from such meetings. You can’t convey much to the President in 20 to 30 minutes. But the very fact of this meeting bears a message that the US government pays attention to the issues of human rights in the world. How their words correspond to their deeds is something that we still have to see.
I spent last week in the USA. I was invited by Principia College in Illinois to participate in their Lucha Noerager Vogel Program on Moral Courage. I had a speech there devoted to my experience of nonviolently opposing authoritarianism in Russia, and I also mentioned the experience of Belarus and Ukraine. Apart from that, I met with a lot of student at classes and gave an interview for the college’s Internet radio (downloadable here). The guys there are very thoughtful and polite; their interests and questions were very different from political science students who I used to talk to.
Before coming to Illinois, I spent a few days in Washington, DC. I attended a brilliant panel on rule of law in Russia organized by Cato Institute. Karinna Moskalenko and Robert Amsterdam, both prominent international lawyers and both very active in their defense of Russian citizens from political repression (e.g. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a client of both of them), as well as Andrei Illarionov, one of the Russia’s most respected economists, discussed prospects for Russian democracy as well as US-Russia relations. This discussion’s video posted by Bob Amsterdam is highly recommended.
I also had a panel of my own at American Enterprise Institute. I was talking about the numerous problems with freedom of assembly in Russia, from vague legislation to police brutality to violent assaults on protests. I am also going to talk about this issue next week at the Washington Human Rights Summit.
My way back from Principia to Moscow was troubled by the Washington snowfall. Although I was staying in St Louis, i.e. quite far from DC, my flight had to stop at Dulles Airport and was cancelled. After waiting in the town for three days, I had to rebook my tickets and go via Chicago and Zurich. But thanks to that delay, I managed to meet Craig Pirrong a.k.a. Streetwise Professor, a Houston professor of Economics and the author of a great blog on Russia’s economy. He has already posted an entry about our meeting.
PS: I was surprised to know how many participants of the AEI discussion (many of them, too, were students) and not just them read my blog (hi!).
There is a lot of pessimists In Russia and abroad who say that our country is so badly lost, so hopeless that you can’t really change anything from below. I consider it just as wrong as the opposite extreme—bullish optimists who see no problems in Russia and believe that everything will be fine without our involvement. In fact, we have a lot of very serious and difficult problems and the powers that be are not going to resolve them (this is what my blog is about), but we are not helpless too. Even in an authoritarian and corrupt state like Russia we can change things. Some examples of these victories you can find in my blog. Here is a new one, which shows that bloggers in Russia are becoming an increasingly powerful community.
Here is an approximate chronicle of my struggle with FSB over my passport:
Wednesday, 12 PM: I visit my local FMS (Federal Migration Service) department to get my passport after almost two-month wait. Instead, I am given a formal notice that my application is postponed for unknown term because FSB is refusing to give their approval.
Wednesday, 4 PM: I file a complaint to the Prosecutor. They say, the investigation will take a month. But I have to go to the USA in 10 days.
Thursday, 11 AM: I visit the FMS department again, their officers say that I’ll have to wait at least a few months. They know that it is against the law (which only gives them one month to issue a passport), but they wouldn’t argue with FSB.
Thursday, 7 PM: I describe the situation on my blog and on Twitter. The post (in Russian) receives 100+ comments and is reposted by more than 60 bloggers.
Thursday, 7:40 PM: The post is first republished by the media, an online news Website Kasparov.ru.
Thursday, 9:30 PM: Echo Moskvy radio reports on the matter.
Friday, morning: Head of Russian FMS Konstantin Romodanovsky orders that the problem is settled immediately.
Friday, 3 PM: I am invited to the local FMS department and told that FSB gave all necessary permissions.
Friday, 5 PM: I receive the passport.
Thanks to the bloggers’ active support, we managed to defeat the seemingly undefeatable FSB machine—in this concrete case. Instead of silently and patiently waiting for months, we managed to solve the problem in less than 24 hours.
Of course, not every problem may be solved like this. In fact, I was lucky both because my post caused such an outcry (if I weren’t an activist, few would care) and because Gen. Romodanovsky decided that his agency shouldn’t be responsible for FSB breaking the law. However, the very fact that the civil society can make the powerful FSB reverse their decisions says that Russia is far from being hopeless.