Putin’s Wars at Home, and Abroad

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Among the lesser noted but most revealing aspects of Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was that it took place on the same day, May 12th, that members of Russia’s democratic opposition released a report on the Kremlin’s involvement in Ukraine.

Titled “Putin. War,” the report was begun by Boris Nemtsov, the politician and former deputy prime minister, who was murdered on February 27th. It estimates the number of deaths of Russian soldiers at more than 200, the Kremlin’s expenditures as exceeding $1 billion, and alleges that control over the separatists enclaves in eastern Ukraine runs directly to the Kremlin.

The report’s significance isn’t as much the allegations it makes about Russian men and matériel, which are fairly well known. Rather, it’s in the courage of the authors, who publicly reject the aggression in Ukraine as “against the interests of Russia”—no small thing in a violent environment in which critics are smeared as traitors.

For these reasons, Secretary Kerry owed the report and its authors deference and respect. Instead, Kerry met with Putin for eight hours, ostensibly about Iran, Syria, and Ukraine, thanking him afterward for his time and “directness.” Kerry should have pressed Putin on democracy and human rights, Nemtsov’s murder, and the quickening pace of repression. Rather it appears that during these lengthy frank talks, Kerry found no time to mention Russia’s international obligations to hold free and fair elections, which the democratic opposition has recently united to contest.

- The remainder of this blog post may be read for free at Democracy Road, FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork's blog at World Affairs Journal

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