US-Russian relations will remain strained as long as Washington continues to criticize the country’s human rights record, says a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
The US violated “a tacit understanding” to refrain from publicly criticizing Russia’s democratic regression, undermining the 2009 “reset” agreed by President Barack Obama and then-president Dmitry Medvedev, said Alexei Pushkov (left), the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign committee.
“The reset was based on an agreement by both sides… that all the issues of democracy, human rights, Russia’s internal developments, will be discussed in a non-public format,” said Pushkov.
“The priority is political realism, ideology matters should be secondary. I tell you, issues over ideology and values can destroy anything,” Pushkov told Reuters.
“If the United States believes that as part of bilateral relations between two countries it can be supporting the Russian opposition, this clearly does not help Russian-U.S. ties,” he added. “The U.S. should not be part of Russia’s internal political process.”
In the latest phase of its crackdown against independent voices, the Kremlin is growing increasingly suspicious of even non-political civic activism, reports suggest.
“The rapid emergence of volunteer efforts, fueled in large part by social media, coincides with the eruption of public political protest — and that’s not by happenstance,” write The Washington Post’s Will Englund and Kathy Lally:
There is an overlap between the political opposition and those who have become fed up with a corrupt government that delivers little and who have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Russia’s Soviet past, when the government controlled all aspects of life, has left it with a population that is accustomed to the idea that the government should provide for its citizens and that is suspicious of volunteer organizations. A 2012 poll found that more than half the population disapproves of them, said Boris Dubin, a sociologist with the Levada Center in Moscow.
Legislators from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, are considering legislation to regulate civic-minded volunteers.
The legislation reflects “an absolute lack of understanding of the whole nature of the social phenomenon,” said Yevgeny Grekov, who helps run a drivers group called Volunteers on Wheels.
Russia suffers from a lack of trust among its people. It can’t have a real civil society without such trust, he said, and it can’t have true democracy without civil society. He described his program as a model of civic behavior that he hopes will be instructive.
“They want volunteers to be walking in columns and support the authorities,” Grekov said. “But programs such as ours have no lists. If you want to help, well, help.”
An underlying cause of Russian authoritarianism is the absence of “any meaningful movement or party that is conservative in the Western sense of the word – – pro-democracy, pro-market, but also pro-family values and traditional attitudes (such as recognizing the importance of faith),” says a prominent analyst.
“Those claiming to be Russian conservatives often turn out to be individuals with only a tentative grasp on reality, who demand the restoration of the Soviet Union under absolute monarchy, who despise democracy as ‘a devilish import from America’ and advocate mandatory prison sentences for homosexuals,” saysKonstantin Eggert, a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM and former BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor:
While many Russians oppose these patently silly laws that discriminate arbitrarily against citizens, not many are quite ready to see the radical redefinition of their values on which the EU seems to insist. Unfortunately there is no voice of reason between Kremlin propaganda and those who consider reform and democracy to be synonymous with destroying tradition.
*The Levada Center receives support from the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.