Commentary Magazine


Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)