Will Obama stand up against Putin’s abuses?
by David J. Kramer
President of Freedom House
The decision to halt USAID work in Russia is just the latest in what has been an especially bad year for human rights in that country, though you wouldn’t know it from the virtual silence of Western leaders. Since Vladimir Putin’s formal return to the Russian presidency in May, there has been an across-the-board crackdown on civil society and the opposition. Beyond the show trial of members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot, authorities have raided the homes of government critics and their family members, conducted criminal investigations and prosecutions of opposition figures and their spouses, and used brutal force against protesters.
Meanwhile, aside from spokesmen’s statements of concern, President Obama and most of his European colleagues have said next to nothing. A clear condemnation of Putin’s actions is necessary out of principle and to show support to those brave Russians who are fed up with authorities’ rampant corruption, abuses and heavy-handed tactics. Tens of thousands of Russians turned out at anti-Putin demonstrations last December, this spring and again on Saturday, despite the threat of arrest and beatings. Western governments should show unwavering solidarity with them.
More specifically, the U.S. government should make clear that support remains unchanged for Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Russian legislation due to take effect Nov. 9 would require NGOs that receive foreign funding to declare themselves “foreign agents,” a pejorative Soviet-era phrase rejected by many NGO leaders. Several Russian NGOs plan to challenge the legislation and want to continue receiving foreign funding, without which many would go out of business. But they are uncertain whether the U.S. government will continue supporting their activities.
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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.