Obama Raises the Stakes of Putin's Repression
by David J. Kramer
President, Freedom House
U.S. President Barack Obama's decision Wednesday to cancel the planned bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin in early September was the right thing to do for many reasons. It also marked much-needed corrections in Obama's "reset" policy toward Russia.
An accumulation of factors went into Obama's decision. The White House press secretary's statement cited "the lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months."
Obama elaborated on this in a news conference Friday. "I think we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia," Obama said of Putin's return to power last year. "I've encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues, with mixed success."
U.S. officials realized that there would be no deliverables to justify a summit in September. When they last met in June on the margins of the Group of Eight meeting in Northern Ireland, Obama and Putin issued a joint communique that absurdly spoke of " principles of mutual respect."
But the U.S. side should have zero respect for Putin's brutal crackdown against human rights, the worst since the Soviet collapse. Despite the complaint from Putin's foreign policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, that the U.S. "is still not ready to build relations with Russia on an equal basis," the U.S. and Russia, in fact, are not equals.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.