Obama aims to strike fine balance in Russia

MOSCOW: US President Barack Obama faces a delicate balancing act on human rights as he visits Moscow in a bid to “reset” strained relations and win Russia’s support on a range of pressing security issues.

Repeated US criticism of human rights violations and of Russia’s record on democratic rights under the previous administration of George W Bush rankled the Kremlin and contributed to the chill in ties. But Obama, who arrived in Moscow today, wants Russian cooperation on the war in Afghanistan as well as on a key nuclear disarmament treaty due to expire at the end of the year. That has left Russian human rights activists worrying that their concerns may drop off the agenda as Washington takes a more hard-headed, realist approach with Moscow.

“I am not expecting progress on human rights from the Obama-Medvedev summit,” said Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre in Moscow.

“They are going to concentrate on security problems,” he added. Obama administration officials deny any plans to relegate human rights. Obama is scheduled to meet tomorrow with activists and politicians, including leaders of anti-Kremlin opposition groups, they point out.

These meetings are part of a “multi-dimensional” approach to US-Russian ties, Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian and Eurasian

affairs, told reporters last week.

“This is not 1974, this is not just where we go where we do an arms control agreement with the Soviets, but that we have a multidimensional relationship with the Russian government and with the Russian people,” McFaul said.

In his talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama is also expected to bring up the unsolved killings of investigative journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov. Their murders have raised worries about media freedom in Russia.

Obama today gave some positive signals to Russian liberals with an interview to

Novaya Gazeta, the outspoken opposition newspaper where Politkovskaya worked until her murder in 2006.

In the interview, Obama praised Medvedev’s efforts to reform Russia’s court system and increase democratic freedoms — initiatives seen as cautious steps away from the authoritarian style of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.