U.S. Holds Russia to High Standards of Democracy, Human Rights

By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States seeks partnership with Russia on a wide range of issues, but also has high expectations that the Russian government will uphold modern values of democracy and freedom, says a senior U.S. diplomat.

“It would be an insult to hold that great country to low standards,” Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said May 24 before the Helsinki Commission in Washington.

“We want Russia to be a partner in the world, and we want Russia to be strong, but strong in 21st-century terms,” Fried testified. The United States would like to see Russia “with strong, democratic and independent institutions in and out of government; with a strong civil society, free press and active opposition; with strong and independent middle and entrepreneurial classes.”

“We do not exempt Russia from our belief in the universal potential of freedom,” Fried said.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission – also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) - is an independent federal agency that monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine U.S. senators, nine U.S. representatives, and one official each from the departments of State, Defense and Commerce. The CSCE is related to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 56-nation body whose mandate includes monitoring elections and promoting human rights.

Although Russia sometimes can be “a difficult partner to work with,” Washington and Moscow have many areas of cooperation on common interests, Fried told the commission.

For example, the U.S-Russia Counterterrorism Working Group last met in September 2006 and will meet again in the next several months to deepen cooperation on intelligence matters, law enforcement, combating terrorist financing, Afghanistan, transportation security and other issues, Fried said.

In 2006, the United States and Russia renewed through 2013 the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, which was launched 1992 to facilitate dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. Fried said nuclear security upgrades are on track for completion in 2008.

The United States and Russia share many nonproliferation goals, and Fried said “positive discussions” have begun on a new agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), due to expire in 2009.

However, along with areas of cooperation, Fried expressed concern about some of Russia’s actions. For example, the United States, the European Union and the OSCE have protested “the recent police brutality employed to break up opposition marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Gorod,” Fried said.

“We are likewise concerned about the increasingly narrow and controlled space within which Russian NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are forced to operate,” Fried said. “The increasing pressure on Russian journalists is also troubling.”

Russia continues to view neighboring countries with a “zero-sum mentality” that forces them to choose between allegiance to Russia or to Western Europe and the United States, Fried said.

“We regret Russia’s so far hostile attitude toward U.S. plans for placing elements of a limited missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic,” Fried added.

The defense system is intended to shield the United States and European allies from warheads fired from countries in the Middle East. Fried said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking April 26 at the NATO meeting of foreign ministers in Oslo, Norway, described as “purely ludicrous” the idea that 10 missile interceptors and several small radar complexes in Eastern Europe in any way would threaten Russia’s massive nuclear capability. (See related article.)

“We and the Russians simply do not agree here,” Fried said. “But we will continue to work to reach a better understanding between our two countries on this important issue.”

The full text of Fried’s testimony is available on the State Department Web site.

For additional information on U.S. policy, see Russia.