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Don’t Lecture Russia on Human Rights, But Raise it as a Partner

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Fred Hiatt’s column in today’s Washington Post is titled “Dangerous Work in Moscow” – providing an interesting profile of Tanya Lokshina, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow.  Lokshina talks about the mixed record over the past year, and urges the United States and other governments to discuss human rights issues with Russia, rather than just attack with criticism:

As then-president Putin choked off more and more freedoms, the Bush administration was first oblivious, then impotent. Because of Guantanamo and associated abuses, Lokshina says, “no one asked what the United States could do. The high ground was lost, and so was influence.”

Obama’s new course at home, she says, has changed that equation. The beating of Ponomarev took place on the day of Obama’s meeting with Medvedev in London, and “it was immensely important” that Obama put the event on their agenda. The Russian regime cares about its image abroad, and so if Obama wants he can have an impact on human rights and its protectors, she says. “The best way to do it is not to lecture Medvedev, but to raise it — raise it as one partner would with another.”

Lokshina talked with Markelov the night before he was murdered. Whenan acquaintance called her the next day to say that the lawyer had beenshot in the street, she was incredulous.

“I just laughed. He was one year younger than I am, he had two youngkids, very alive, very vibrant,” she says. “The sort of guy you cannotimagine in a coffin.”

Asked whether his killing heightened her sense of danger, Lokshinademurs. Human Rights Watch has taken security precautions; she cantravel abroad; people working for smaller, Russian organizations,without outside backing, are far more vulnerable. But, sheacknowledges, “anyone who is working on human rights abuses in Russia .. . is part of a group at risk.”

Markelov’s killing, like that of every journalist and human rightsactivist murdered in the Putin era, remains unsolved. Was it orderedfrom on high, or undertaken by a low-level agent implicated by one ofMarkelov’s campaigns or lawsuits? No one knows.

Another activist recently told me that this is the biggestdifference even from Soviet days, when no KGB agent would dare act onhis own authority. “Now people feel there is no one to complain to,”Lokshina agrees. “You are on your own.”

Which is all the more reason for Obama to remind his counterpartthat Lokshina and her comrades, dead and alive, are not forgotten.