FPI Directors and Staff Sign Letter to President Obama on Russia

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

August 2, 2013

Dear Mr. President:

In the past several weeks, the already alarming deterioration of Russia's respect for political and civil rights has accelerated. Ordinary citizens who participated in peaceful protests against the government are being tried in court on trumped-up charges, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was convicted posthumously in an absurd tax evasion case after having died from abuse in prison, and anti-corruption blogger and leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny was convicted of embezzlement in a politically-motivated trial.

Over the past year, Russia’s Kremlin-friendly Duma has hastily adopted laws that make Russians, particularly those engaged in civil society and journalism, vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment. Russia's security services and law enforcement are pursuing a government agenda to harass and intimidate anyone perceived as a critic. Hundreds of non-profit organizations have been raided and investigated. Activists and opposition figures are targets of surveillance and harassment, even outside of Russia.

In light of these disturbing developments, we urge you to cancel your summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin in September in Moscow and to revise U.S. policy toward Russia to reflect the aggressive, systematic assault on political and civil liberties taking place in Russia. This request is independent of our concern about Russia's handling of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum today in Moscow. Even if Snowden were to be returned to the U.S. before your planned visit to Russia, which looks highly unlikely, we would still urge you not to travel to Moscow in September for the reasons stated.

While we recognize that certain levels of engagement with the Putin government are important and unavoidable, we also feel that U.S. policy should reflect Russia’s backsliding on human rights and recognize that it has an impact on the broader U.S.-Russia relationship. Such a policy is also important in dealing with other repressive governments elsewhere.

In the past, you have committed the U.S. to supporting universal values everywhere, including in Russia. Efforts to support universal values must be carried out consistently and with conviction if they are to withstand official efforts to cast aspersions on America's intentions. We hope that while visiting Russia for the G-20 Summit, you will meet with representatives of Russia's civil society, democratic opposition and independent media. Upholding our principles will simultaneously support those Russians who are struggling for freedom and respect for human rights in their country, too.

Max BootDavid KramerGary Schmitt
Ellen BorkIrina KrasovskayaStephen Sestanovich
Susan CorkeTod LindbergHannah Thoburn
Paula DobrianskyArch PuddingtonKurt Volker
Eric EdelmanDavid SatterLeon Wieseltier
Chris GriffinDan SenorJennifer Windsor
Robert HermanVance SerchukRobert Zarate

-For a PDF copy of this letter, click here

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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