Experts Warn of Consequences to U.S.-Russian Relations from Recent Crackdown on Opposition

Posted in Russia , United States | 12-Aug-10 | Source: Foreign Policy Initiative

Boris Nemtsov

WASHINGTON - Thirty-seven former U.S. government officials, human rights and democracy advocates, and Russia experts warned Wednesday that the arrest of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov at a demonstration on July 31 and other anti-democratic steps by the Russian government constitute an "alarming trend" and that continued abuses should have "serious consequences" for U.S.-Russian relations.

In an open letter to President Obama, the nonpartisan group noted a pattern of harassment of human rights and opposition figures by the Russian government. Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition Solidarity movement, was clearly targeted for arrest by authorities and faces prosecution. "It is imperative that future demonstrations be allowed, and that this pattern of abuse, harassment and arrests ends," the letter's signers wrote.
The group calls on President Obama to make clear to the Russian government that continued abuses would have a "deleterious effect on the relationship between our two nations."

Among the signatories are former Bush and Clinton administration human rights and foreign policy officials, Russia experts, and human rights and democracy advocates from major human rights organizations. Many of them also signed a letter prior to the president's July 2009 trip to Moscow urging the President to make democracy and human rights a priority during his meetings with Russian officials.

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

August 11, 2010

Dear Mr. President:

In recent weeks, attempts by Russian citizens to stage peaceful demonstrations were met with force and arrests. Newspaper accounts report dozens of arrests. In Moscow, the authorities arrested Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition Solidarity Russia movement whom you met during your July 2009 visit to Russia. Video of the July 31 demonstration shows that authorities targeted Mr. Nemtsov while he calmly attempted to proceed to the demonstration. Mr. Nemtsov was released but charged with obstructing the police in the course of their duties.

Mr. Nemtsov was attempting to take part in an opposition demonstration designed to exercise the Russian people's right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. Previous rallies have also been broken up by militia who brutally beat participants, and harassed representatives of the opposition and human rights organizations, including the longtime human rights champion, Lyudmila Alexeyeva. It is imperative that future demonstrations be allowed, and that this pattern of abuse, harassment and arrests ends.

Mr. President, you have noted the connection between democracy and security, asserting that "governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure." Mr. Nemtsov has argued that the problem in U.S.-Russia relations was one of values and that "to ignore the problem of human rights and democracy means to fail ... strategically." The signatories of this letter support your efforts to improve relations with Moscow. We are also unified in agreement that improved relations must not be achieved at the expense of democracy and human rights.

We believe that these arrests, the passage of a new law expanding the powers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other anti-democratic steps constitute an alarming trend. American policy should proceed from the premise that productive and successful relations require respect for human rights and democratic freedoms by the Russian government. Nor can the Russian government hope to achieve its goal of modernization while it oppresses its people.

Continued abuses of Russia's democracy and human rights should lead to greater U.S. support for the brave Russians attempting to exercise their freedoms. We commend your administration for expressing concern about last week's arrests and reiterating the importance of respecting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. We urge you to continue to convey to the Russian government the American people's condemnation of these assaults on universal human values in Russia today and make clear that their continuation cannot help but have a deleterious effect on the relationship between our two nations.


Elliott Abrams Rachel Kleinfeld David Satter
Leon Aron David Kramer Randy Scheunemann
Ellen Bork Irina Krasovskaya Gary Schmitt
William Courtney William Kristol John Shattuck
Larry Cox Tod Lindberg Dan Senor
Eric Edelman Elisa Massimino Paula Schriefer
Jamie M. Fly Clifford D. May Gare A. Smith
Carl Gershman A. Wess Mitchell Kenneth R. Weinstein
Morton Halperin Joshua Muravchik Leon Wieseltier
Michael Haltzel Sam Patten Damon Wilson
Robert Herman Danielle Pletka R. James Woolsey
Bruce Pitcairn Jackson Arch Puddington
Robert Kagan Stephen Rademaker