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Human Rights Leaders Meet with German Embassy in Moscow

Representatives from Human Rights Watch and Memorial are reported to have met with the German Embassy in Moscow, which promised them a more critical approach to Germany’s diplomatic relations with Russia. merkel3.jpg From the IHT:

Over the grilled meat, hot vegetables and fresh salads, Alexander Petrov, deputy director of the Moscow branch of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, was candid. “We can function,” he said. “We are not under surveillance. But we are regarded as American spies.” Memorial is a charity and human rights organization that monitors human rights abuses in the Russian provinces, particularly in the Caucasus, where independent humanitarian agencies are often harassed and expelled. Nothing is certain in Putin’s Russia, said Grigory Shvedov, a Memorial board member. “You spend all your time dealing with the state,” explained Shvedov. “If you change address, it used to take just a few weeks to register it. Now it takes several months. Often, nothing is written down. A lot operates on an oral basis.” … Independent politicians who have established their own parties to challenge Putin’s grip on both the Kremlin and the Duma, or Parliament, have been subject to pressure and intimidation, too. One was Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who now leads United Civil Front, a new political movement; his Moscow offices were raided recently by a counterterrorist unit of the police. Human rights groups said that this was a warning to him and others intending to challenge the Kremlin despite their limited means. “Kasparov has no means to convey his ideas,” Petrov said. “How can he when there are no free media?” So the Russian civil-society movement is looking to Germany. Some see a glimmer of hope. “The German-Russian relationship is so important,” said Shvedov. “Here is a chance for Germany and Europe to speak out.” …. When Steinmeier met Kasparov and several leading human rights organizations in Moscow later that Thursday, the German media was kept well away. The Foreign Ministry even kept secret the names of the nongovernmental organizations until the visit was over, with officials giving different reasons. One said that the list of participants had not been confirmed until the last minute. Another said that Steinmeier liked to do things discreetly. It is not just style, but ideology, that differentiate the German chancellery and Foreign Ministry. The Social Democrats who dominate the Foreign Ministry continue to believe that an “Ostpolitik,” or Eastern policy, toward Russia will one day bring Germany’s big eastern neighbor much closer to Europe, not just economically but in terms of values as well. Merkel, judging from her more outspoken public and private meetings with Putin, believes Germany should adopt a more critical stance toward the Kremlin, if Europe’s values to have any meaning for Russian civil society. The result of these different approaches is that Germany’s Russian policy, at best, is confused. In the view of Russian human rights activists, it would help if both the chancellery and the Foreign Ministry listened more closely to those they meet here, be it openly or behind closed doors. “A lot could be done by being in constant contact with the nongovernmental organizations outside of Moscow, especially in the Caucasus, and establishing close partnerships,” said Shvedov. “It could provide some kind of protection for them.” The NGOs also suggest that any German assistance should be much more closely monitored so that the funds reach the right people and do not disappear into government channels. But their biggest request is that Berlin should “keep asking questions. The whole time,” said Shvedov. “Ask how many people have disappeared. Ask how many people have been charged and why. Keep tracking the proceedings and results. If European countries are based on the rule of law, it is what we want here.”