January 11, 2003 - Washington Post: Backsliding in Russia

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Backsliding in Russia

Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Washington Post on backsliding in Russia. The story provides insight into the Russian decision December 27 to terminate the agreement for the Peace Corps to work in Russia. This is one more measure of the Russian government's attempts, after a decade of openness to the West, to turn the nation inward by keeping foreigners out. The freedom many Russians had thirsted for after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union brought a flood of foreign cultural and religious influences that some welcomed but others perceived as crowding out Russia's own values. Also the new ascendancy of the FSB (the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB), President Vladimir Putin's professional alma mater, and its discomfort with foreigners play a key role in the visa problems.

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Backsliding in Russia*

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Backsliding in Russia

Saturday, January 11, 2003; Page A20

WHEN SHE LEFT Russia for her Christmas holiday, Irene Stevenson, the AFL-CIO representative in Moscow, had no reason to think anything was amiss. All of her papers were in order, her visa was up to date. When she arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport upon her return, however, she was unexpectedly pulled out of the passport line, refused entry and told to board the next flight out of the country. Ms. Stevenson, who has lived in Moscow since 1989, received no explanation for her expulsion, except for a vague reference to "national security concerns."

If this story were unusual, it would probably be of concern to a few diplomats, and perhaps to the many Russians whom Ms. Stevenson has helped over the years. Unfortunately, her unexpected expulsion is only the most recent, and most egregious, example of recent Russian government mistreatment of foreigners who are explicitly working to promote liberal democratic values in Russia. In late December the Russian government made clear that it will no longer accept Peace Corps volunteers from the United States. This month the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began pulling its personnel out of Chechnya, also at the request of the Russian government, despite the fact that the OSCE had helped broker a cease-fire in the war-torn republic. These incidents follow several years' worth of low-level harassment of both Russian and foreign independent organizations in Moscow and, in recent months, more direct confrontations. The FSB -- the organization formerly known as the KGB -- has started questioning and following human rights activists in Moscow and the provinces. Occasionally someone gets beaten up. Although this kind of harassment does not represent a return to the Soviet era -- human rights organizations do exist and do still operate legally -- it does signify a distinct change of climate.

It also brings up questions about American commitment to the "democracy promotion" programs that the U.S. government has put in place over the past few years. Ms. Stevenson was not engaged in any activity remotely connected with Russian national security. She was advising Russian workers on how to get the back pay they are owed and helping campaign for better working conditions and wages. She was also organizing people in a society where independent organizations themselves are a novelty -- helping, in other words, to create the kind of civil society that the Bush administration says it wants to spread around the world, not only in Russia but in places such as Iraq. Nevertheless, her expulsion comes just as the administration is contemplating slashing the budget for democracy promotion in Russia, including funding for the kinds of programs Ms. Stevenson runs, on the grounds that the Russians have "graduated" beyond the need for them. Far from graduating, this latest incident is further evidence that Russia is backsliding, that the power of the Russian security services is growing and that the tolerance for opposition is shrinking. Ms. Stevenson's expulsion requires a response at the highest level. Perhaps President Bush should, once again, look into the eyes of his friend President Vladimir Putin and ask him where he is leading his country.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Background on the Peace Corps in Russia

Read more background on the Peace Corps in Russia at:

Special Report: From Russia with Love 1 January 2003

PC Rep won't waste words on spying charges
Peace Corps' Man in Moscow won't waste words on the spying charges 5 January 2003

Peace Corps responds to Russian Allegations
Peace Corps responds to Russian suggestions of intelligence gathering 3 January 2003

Peace Corps disappointed with Russian decision
Exclusive: Peace Corps disappointed with Russian decision 27 December 2002

Moscow to abandon Peace Corps agreement
New York Times: Russia bars future U.S. Peace Corps workers 28 December 2002

Pravda: Moscow informs Washington of intention to abandon Peace Corps agreement 27 December 2002

Associated Press: Russia Rejects U.S. Peace Corps 27 December 2002

US Ready to Remove Peace Corps From Russia
U.S. Ready to Remove Peace Corps From Russia, Citing Disputes 17 December 2002

Russian Spy claims "groundless" says US
Russian claims about Peace Corps volunteers "groundless" says US Embassy 16 December 2002

KGB accuses PCVs of "suspicious activities"
Update: KGB Chief says PCVs involved in suspicious activities 15 December 2002

KGB chief accuses Peace Corps workers of spying in Russia 15 December 2002

KGB refuses visas to religious workers
Russia refuses visas to religious workers 2 November 2002

What RPCVs say about the situation
Exclusive: Read the advice RPCVs gave the Peace Corps in August 18 August 2002

Russia is cooling to the Peace Corps
Time Magazine says Russia "Cooling To the Corps" 23 August 2002

Radio Free Europe makes the Case for the Peace Corps in Russia 18 August 2002

Secretary of State Powell makes no progress on Peace Corps visas with Russian foreign minister 14 August 2002

Russia refuses visas for Peace Corps Volunteers
Peace Corps Moscow chief denies allegations of non-professionalism 13 August 2002

Russia Ousting Dozens Of Peace Corps Volunteers 12 August 2002

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Russia; Speaking Out



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