- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

President Bush will forcefully raise the issue of Russias recent human rights record in his first meeting with President Vladimir Putin next week in Slovenia, the State Departments top Russia officer said yesterday.
"Absolutely, human rights will be on the agenda, and Secretary [of State Colin] Powell has left no doubt of that" in preliminary talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, said John Beyrle, acting special adviser to Mr. Powell for Russia and the other nations of the former Soviet Union.
In a relatively downbeat assessment, Mr. Beyrle told the congressional U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that human rights in Russia under Mr. Putin had suffered after the tremendous progress seen in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He cited the continuing military campaign in Chechnya, religious persecution, corruption and abuse in the legal system, and government moves to silence critical media outlets, notably the NTV independent television network.
"Russia appears to be pursuing a 'managed democracy," said Mr. Beyrle, "in which the boundaries of free speech, dissent, the media, religion, civil society and politics are loosely determined by the executive and maintained through the use of law enforcement and other activities."
Mr. Beyrle said the human rights issue has the potential to cloud the entire U.S.-Russia relationship.
"If we have a sense that progress on human rights and democratization has stopped or is being reversed, then it cant help but have a serious impact on the relationship as a whole," he said.
Russian human rights activist Elena Bonner, who also testified at yesterdays Capitol Hill hearing, accused Russian troops of war crimes in the Chechnya campaign. She said the government has failed to provide for the huge numbers of civilian refugees created by the fighting.
"In Chechnya, mass violation of the rights of the civilian population — looting, 'cleansing of villages, torture, imprisonment in pits, extrajudicial executions, including the shooting of children — are continuing," said Mrs. Bonner, the widow of longtime Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. "The genocide of the Chechen nation continues."
Russia contends it is fighting Islamic "terrorists" in Chechnya who are determined to break away from Moscows control and sow instability all along Russias southern flank.
U.S. officials privately have put a good deal of stress on the Bush-Putin summit June 16 In Ljubljana, Slovenia, the first meeting between the two leaders. Relations between the two countries have gotten off to a rocky start, but Bush administration officials have sketched out plans to break new ground with Moscow on a range of subjects, from missile defense and nonproliferation to economic cooperation.
The issue of human rights could complicate those plans.
The State Department has repeatedly condemned the Russian governments dealings with Media-Most, the press conglomerate controlled by Vladimir Gusinsky that was outspokenly critical of Mr. Putins Chechnya policy. Under heavy pressure from Russian prosecutors and tax police, Mr. Gusinsky recently lost control of NTV, Media-Mosts flagship property, to the partially state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
The United States and leading Western European nations have also been harshly critical of the Chechnya campaign and of Moscows attempts to limit independent reporting from the front on conditions there.
But Mr. Beyrle said yesterday that recent talks with Mr. Ivanov and Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have left U.S. officials optimistic that OSCE observers will be allowed back into Chechnya in the near future.


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