The Obama administration has pursued “a robust strategy for supporting democratic change and civil society development in Russia,” the National Security Council’s senior director for Russia will tell US Senators this afternoon (watch the hearing live here).
“Yet the limited results regarding democratic development in Russia over the last several years suggest that we must do more,” according to Michael McFaul (left), President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow.
His testimony coincides with a warning from one of Russia’s leading dissidents that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency has killed any prospect of democratic or economic reform.
“Putin’s decision for a third term … killed the last hopes that the system may, of its own initiative, move toward democratization and liberalization,” jailed former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote in the business daily Vedomosti.
An architect of the reset of US-Russian relations, McFaul concedes that “[r]esetting our relations on issues of democracy and human rights … requires more work.” But as a long-time advocate of a twin-track strategy for reconciling diplomatic and democratic imperatives (in Russia and elsewhere), he insists that maintaining good relations with the Kremlin is compatible with a forceful approach to advancing democracy and human rights.
The administration’s strategy for promoting democracy in Russia is based on four key pillars, says McFaul: elevating democracy and human rights in meetings with senior Russian officials; sanctioning abusers of human rights, as in the case of officials implicated in the death of Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitsky; actively engaging Russian NGOs and encouraging peer-to-peer engagement through annual U.S.-Russian civil society summits; and funding democracy assistance efforts:
…the Obama administration – working with the U.S. Congress – has continued to secure funds to support civil society, rule of law, human rights, independent media, and good governance in Russia. We have prioritized support for small, direct grants to Russian civil society organizations. Working with Congress, we continue to seek new ways to generate greater support for civil society organizations in Russia. For the upcoming parliamentary and presidential votes in Russia, we have allocated $9 million – one million more than spent for the previous round of national elections in 2007-2008 – to support activities designed to strengthen free and fair elections.
In his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to consider his nomination, McFaul cites his experience as the National Democratic Institute’s first representative in Russia in 1992 as a further indication of his pro-democracy credentials.
“People have a lot of respect for Mike. Everybody knows that is a very passionate supporter of democracy,” the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan told Foreign Policy, which secured an advance copy of McFaul’s testimony. “He’s got a long reputation, good contacts, and he’s part of a larger pro-democracy community, so the opposition in Russia will feel like it has somebody they can talk to, which isn’t always the case.”
Kagan co-authored today’s Washington Post op-ed in support of his nomination with Freedom House’s David Kramer.
The Senate should confirm McFaul and replace the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act to sanction Russian officials guilty of gross human rights abuses.
“These moves would strengthen McFaul’s hand as he heads to Moscow,’ they contend:
Notwithstanding some serious concerns we have had with Obama’s “reset” policy — we think the administration has oversold its successes, essentially ignored Russia’s neighbors and done too little on human rights concerns — McFaul is a renowned Russia expert, a strong proponent of democracy promotion (he recently wrote a book on the subject) and deserves the Senate’s support.
He regularly meets with representatives and activists from Russia’s neighboring states, even though those countries technically fall under a different directorate at the NSC. He also meets with Russian opposition figures and civil society activists in Washington and every time he travels to Russia. If he gets confirmed, we are confident that Russia’s deteriorating human rights situation will receive high-level attention at the U.S. Embassy. It would be particularly good to have McFaul in Moscow before Russia’s elections (for parliament in December and for the presidency next March), even if they will be flawed, so that he can offer a frank, on-the-ground assessment.