All kinds of things going on in the world of U.S.-Russia relations: meetings, agreements, meetings without agreements, agreements to meet again, Lavrov and Clinton making out in a London elevator… Ok I just made that last part up. But not this:
1) The Son of START may or may not be in the final stages of negotiation, almost 2 months after our decades long arms reduction treaty was allowed to expire un-renewed.
2) NATO and Russia are officially on speaking terms (which makes me feel like I’m writing about middle school students) for the first time since their falling out over Georgia.
3) Re-set Button brainchild, the Russian-US council on civil society, which up until now I assumed was mythological, is apparently holding its first official meeting in D.C. this week.
What does it all mean? It means, “We intend to make an effort to create a situation sometime in the future where we can try to work together, but we reserve the right to not get along if you insist on being so stubborn; we both know I’m better than you anyway.” Which is considered enough of a diplomatic coup in the Obama administration to earn mention in the State of the Union address. The President’s definition of accomplishment seems to be “we kinda sorta maybe (not really) tried to make something better and it hasn’t happened yet but it will eventually, so long as everyone just ignores our actions and only listens to our words or otherwise the magical spell we’re counting on to make this all work will be cursed and fail and it will be all YOUR fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” [<--Shorter SOTU.]
Anyway, I picked the wrong week not to visit friends in D.C.
I. Mr. Surkov Goes to Washington.
He’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Vladislav is coming to town… Vladislav is coming to town…
I can be naughty, or nice, whatever you prefer. I’m flexible…
(OMG: I image googled “Surkov McFaul” and a picture of my dead cat came up. It’s a haunting!)
Here is RT’s transcript of an Izvestia interview with the fine Mr. Surkov (what? no video, RT? you know looking at him is half the fun!): V.Surkov: “We do not intend to lecture one another.”
(No wonder there has been such stunning silence from the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group. Aside from the fact that just saying “the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group” is enough to make your mouth want to take a two week vacation and hardly lends itself to acronymn. The U.S. has illustrated that it only knows how to communicate with other countries through lecture or military force. These meetings must be epic awkward silences. Still, agreeing not to lecture one another is a remarkable step in right direction. Now let’s agree not bomb each other. Or save the children. Or something. Anything. Please.)
A Russian-US council on civil society that was created due to the initiative of the presidents of both countries will meet in the United States on January 27.
It will tackle issues left over from the Cold War, such as corruption, children’s rights, and stereotypes about Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.
The council will be co-chaired by Russian Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, who was interviewed by the Izvestia daily, ahead of his trip.
Q. Lately, the Russian-US presidential commission council, which you are co-chairing, is being talked about quite a lot. Could you outline the plans of the working group for the nearest future?
Vladislav Surkov: The working group will meet for the first time in Washington, DC, on January 27. A substantial amount of preparation has been done ahead of it, with both sides coordinating the objectives and directives of our sphere of action.
The United States proposed to include only state officials into the council. We did not object to the idea. On top of that, we proposed the inclusion of Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin; chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation Ella Pamfilova; Presidential Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov; and several other persons who are not quite state officials. But since no equivalent posts exist in the US government, they were included in the delegation.
Q.Did you agree on the council’s agenda?
VS: The Russian side initiated the following topics: fighting corruption, migration – the issue of illegal immigration first of all – prisoners’ rights, and a crackdown on crimes against children.
The US side has offered to discuss negative myths and stereotypes, which still exist in relations between our countries. We tried to avoid, where possible, issues which we will most likely not be able to reach an agreement on. We will approach them gradually, as our mutual understanding deepens.
Q. And all of these five issues will be discussed during the visit to the United States?
VS: In Washington we will cover the issues fighting corruption, crimes against children and negative stereotypes only.
Q.What motivated the Russian side to choose its priorities for the discussion?
VS: All the issues approved are supported by explicit statistics, assessment criterions and, most importantly, all are significant for both Russia and the US We have plenty to talk about.
The problem of corruption, for example. Of course, in our respective countries, the problem has different roots. Nevertheless, major corruption scandals happen both in Russia and in the United States.
Another issue is immigration. Russia and the US are world leaders when it comes to the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Thus, the issue of migration is vital to both countries. The same could be said about the third matter of concern – the issue of prisoner conditions. Again, our countries continue to head the grim list of the countries with the largest number of the incarcerated.
Finally – a highly important problem – crimes against children. During the past several years the number of crimes committed against underage children in Russia has increased tenfold. The United States has extensive experience in combating this evil. That experience will be highly valuable for us, since Russia has a lot to accomplish in that respect.
Q: Will the Russian side pose any questions regarding the deaths of Russian children adopted by American parents?
VS: I would like to emphasize that we will not lecture each other on the issues covered during the meeting. This is not the point of the working group. We know that the United States is concerned over that issue and is working on solving the problem. As far as problems with adopted children are concerned – we, ourselves, have plenty of those in Russia.
Q: Some Russian human rights activists and several US congressmen have subjected you to criticism. Do you have anything to say on that matter?
VS: We hit some bumps during the preparations for the council. We are trading information with our American colleagues on those issues. Overall the process is flowing smoothly, and we have reached certain success already.
As far as my being scrutinized by some Russian human rights groups, as well as American congressmen, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I think it is a small part of a larger mass of misconceptions, and those very negative stereotypes we will be discussing. I hope we will be able to dispel them during the course of our cooperation.
Q: Will there be a need to refine the activity of the council in the future?
VS: We would really like it if meetings of the working group took place not only in Russian and US capitals, but in other places, as well. We are going to hold meetings in various states and Russian regions. We must not turn into a commission which sits in their cabinets in Moscow and Washington discussing something in abstract terms.
Q: Various mass media report that the US will pose a question on equal cooperation of Russian and US civil organizations. Is there some sort of inequality between these organizations right now, any limitations in their cooperation?
VS: We do not see any inequality between Russian and American organizations, and we think there are no hurdles for a dialogue between them at the moment. Especially considering the fact that many Russian non-commercial organizations subside on grants they receive from the American government.
As far as your question goes, I will strictly stick to the agenda we agreed on, since I’m entitled to holding talks only within its framework. I would like to emphasize once again – these issues will be discussed only within the context of institutions of civil society.
The American side has demonstrated a very civil and good-natured approach to our cooperation. On our part, we will do everything in our power to make the working group a success.
I rather they be working together to tackle the issue of child trafficking than the issue of Lilia Shevtsova’s persecution complex. Hmm. Do you think it is a coincidence that she wrote that FP article on eve of this meeting? Pretty sneaky, sis. BTW, why does Misha have an op ed in the NYT this week? (For non-Russia watcher types who read this blog: Misha is Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is in prison in Siberia on charges of … tax evasion I think. A long time ago he was a Komsomol, then after the fall of Communism, he snatched up a bunch of stuff and became a powerful wealthy oligarch. Then Putin stole his assets and threw him in jail. The peasants rejoiced. The human rights camp flipped out. Surkov worked for Misha before getting a gig in the Kremlin and throwing his former boss in the gulag. Drama! Ok, let’s continue.) His article isn’t terribly interesting. But it is an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of our caged bird who sings for the New York Times.
It seems our leaders are not as enamoured of dear Slava as they are of jailed Russian businessmen. Why doesn’t Surkov have an op-ed piece in the NYT? Get with the program! Seriously, someone in that Moscow fortress should hire me…
This is from Peter Lavelle who got it from JRL who printed it from Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It must be true.
From the JRL today
(Surkov is facing somekind of boycott in the US since being appointed
Russia’s civil soceity point man with the US) [<--I don't know if this is commentary from Peter, JRL or Nezavisimaya Gazeta...]
January 19, 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES
Russian and American delegations will meet to discuss matters of civil
society next week
Author: Alisa Vedenskaya
…..”Surkov and McFaul first met on October 12 when Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton was visiting Russia. McFaul told Surkov that
the reaction in the United States to his promotion to Civil Society
coordinator was somewhat equivocal. Surkov parred it by saying that
McFaul’s promotion had gone entirely unnoticed in
Russia because nobody knew him in this country.”
Oh, snap! I’m sure their meeting today went swimmingly… And it is not just Peter Lavelle and JRL and Nezavisimaya Gazeta spreading word of Surkov’s PR problem in D.C.
II. Party of No Hides Obama’s Re-Set Button.
From Moscow News Weekly: “Obama critics slam Kremlin aide.”
Whatever happened to “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the math, kids. And can someone explain to me how meeting with your foreign counterpart constitutes an endorsement of that person or their country? What is this, diplomacy for 3rd graders? Do they write these letters when we meet with the Chinese? Russia might have issues, but it’s hardly on par with Pakistan or North Korea or Sudan.
A key Russian-US working group co-led by Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov is under fire over human rights, as US Republicans call for President Barack Obama’s administration to boycott its first meeting in Washington this week.
Though the group aims to focus on issues like fighting corruption and child trafficking, 71 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Obama expressing concern over Russia’s human rights record and urging that the US government “not participate in any such Working Group unless and until the Russian government has taken concrete, verifiable steps to address… shortcomings in its treatment of political and media freedoms.”
The letter, dated Dec. 11, also called for Surkov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff, to be replaced with “someone who has not been involved in establishing oppressive and undemocratic policies”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow News.
The group, created by Obama and Medvedev last July, is one of 16 tackling issues from trade to nuclear non-proliferation, but it is drawing additional attention because it is headed by Surkov. Dubbed the “grey cardinal” during Vladimir Putin’s administration, Surkov was largely responsible for formulating the “sovereign democracy” concept.
Russian human rights groups have criticised the appointment of Surkov to co-chair the commission, and now US Republicans are using that criticism as a way of attacking Obama.
Interruption: I don’t think Obama’s team chose Surkov to represent Russia. Idiots.
Surkov dismissed the Republicans’ criticisms in an interview with Izvestia, published on Jan. 22. “We do not plan to lecture each other,” Surkov said of the group’s members. “As for criticism against me from some human rights organisations and [members of the US Congress], everyone has a right to [their] opinion. This is a small part of a whole complex of prejudices and negative stereotypes.”
The letter came amid mounting Republican criticism of Obama, while last week the Democratic Party lost its 60-member filibuster-proof Senate majority after Massachusetts elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1972.
Republicans are using the letter simply as a way of putting domestic political pressure on Obama and don’t really have a worked-out Russia policy, said Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst at the Washington-based World Security Institute.
Zlobin said the letter would serve to rally members of Congress against Obama, adding that they were trying to use human rights ill as a bludgeon to get their way on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and trade. “Whatever is said about Russia is not about their policy towards Russia per se, but towards their internal political interests,” Zlobin said.
Stop. Re-read that last part about trying to use human rights as a bludgeon to get their way on their own internal political interests.
Other NGO representatives invited to take part in the group said the Republicans’ call for a boycott was counterproductive.
Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said it played into a “hysterical” policy towards Russia, and this “hysteria” was convenient for hawkish elements in Russia’s security services.
“To close opportunities for [dialogue] may benefit those parts of the Russian bureaucracy that don’t want any contact at all …because that would expose those who use international mechanisms of money laundering,” said Kabanov, a former Federal Security Service official.
“Corruption is an international problem because money is laundered abroad, and this [affects] American banks.”
Kabanov added: “We have things to say, and if they don’t give us this opportunity then we will find ourselves marginalised again.”
This is why I don’t entirely understand it when Russian intellectuals boycott meetings they are invited to by the Kremlin. Creeps me out.
But wait! There’s more! The Party of No wont stop there!
From the Moscow Times: “Reset in Danger of Being Set Back.”
Because ruining any chance for a healthcare reform bill were not enough to be proud of. (OMG how weird is it that the rhetoric surrounding healthcare reform now includes the phrase, “Bolshevik plot?” What century is this? What universe is this? Does this make the GOP Mensheviks?)
A year ago, when the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama initiated its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, two things were clear: First, the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate, would have an outsized role to play in the process; and, second, the Democrats would likely have a fillibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, making the advancement of Obama’s major Russia policy overtures a bit easier than might otherwise be the case. A year later, the first proposition remains true, but Republican Scott Brown’s recent upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race complicates the second since Democrats no longer have 60 seats in the Senate— the threshold that allows a party to pass legislation on a “fast track” by depriving the opposing party of its ability to filibuster. All of this means that there could be some turbulence in U.S.-Russian relations in 2010. [...]
Congress is a major factor on other Russia policy issues as well. Russian accession to the World Trade Organization is a case in point. Congressional action would be required to upgrade Russia, the largest economy not yet represented in the WTO, from the Cold War-era lows of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to establish normal trade relations, which are required to secure U.S. agreement to Russia’s accession to the WTO. Russian WTO accession seems to be on the Obama administration’s congressional to-do list in 2010, but in the current cold trade climate — Russia just banned U.S. poultry imports, valued at $800 million a year — the issue is going to be as contentious as ever. That may be why Russian officials have sent mixed signals as to whether Russia itself will pursue WTO accession aggressively.
Congressional approval would also be required for the United States to enter into a “123” agreement with Russia on civil nuclear cooperation. This important area that had progressed nicely during George W. Bush’s last year in office was put on ice after the eruption of the Russia-Georgia war.
As far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned, 2010 is truly the “Year of Congress.” It appears less likely, however, that it is going to be the “Year of Results.”
If Scott Brown ends up responsible for obliterating any hope of improving our relationship with Russia, I better at least get a consolation prize of a Surkov Cosmo centerfold out of the deal.
III. Putin: Party Crasher, Porn Basher.
Speaking of buff. And porn.
Jesse a.k.a The Russia Monitor has posted this little gem of a news story: “The Putin One-Liner Strikes Again.”
I wasn’t even going to mention this but couldn’t resist. Last week, PM Putin showed up to the the Annual Meeting of the State Council to give a speech. Now, by “showed up,” I mean he literally showed up out of nowhere to make an unexpected appearance and an unscheduled speech. The guys over at Power Vertical dissected this move yesterday. Putin made his minutes in front of the mic count, however, by dropping another one of his hilarious, debate-ending one-liners (“Putinisms”). Putin’s grammatical knockout came in a response to rumors on the internets that the recent regional Duma elections were rigged. The PM, visibly angry, hunched his shoulders in disgust and said, “Well half of what’s on the internet is porno! Why quote the internet? If you have evidence take it to court.”
One possible explanation of Putin’s indiscriminate targeting of porno? In the past, online interest in Putin has been found to be negatively correlated with online interest in pornography.
Poor Vova, walking into meeting he wasn’t invited to to complain about more people watching porn than paying attention to him on the internet. Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I would think you’d want an intelligent poltical activist type ally – like ME -paying attention to you instead of child molesters and depressed husbands. But if he’s really miffed about it, I know of a pretty easy solution to the problem of people who watch porn not watching Vova. Hello! Althletic body? Check. Ham in front of a camera? Check. Bendy girlfriend? Check. FSB who lkes to make sex tapes? Check. BFF Oscar-winning filmmaker? Check. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
He could totally pull it off:
And lastly, I present to you the prize for Best Headline for this week’s coveage of U.S.-Russia relations:
Stay classy, Discovery Institute!
Ok, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!