Russians React Badly to U.S. Criticism

January 6, 2011

MOSCOW — There are few things that Russian politicians like less than being scolded about democracy and human rights, and over the last week, since police arrested top opposition leaders at a New Year’s Eve protest, the news cycle has been dominated by Russians criticizing Americans for criticizing Russians.
The Russians’ irritation reached a high-water mark after Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman released a statement condemning the arrests, provoking a chorus of response on Thursday from senators in Moscow, who said the criticism is jeopardizing the reset in relations between the two countries.
“When Obama was assuming his duties, he pledged not to repeat the errors made by his predecessor not to interfere in foreign countries’ affairs and not to force democracy on anyone in the world,” said Mikhail V. Margelov, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of parliament, in comments to Russian news services.
Mr. Margelov said the statement by the American senators was particularly “awkward and inappropriate” given that the parliament is poised to ratify the New Start treaty before the end of the winter. He went on to say that meddling from abroad has never helped the Russian opposition, though the historic examples he offered were strange, in that they dated from the late czarist period.
He said the Russian people did not rise up in response to Kolokol, a London-based newspaper that criticized the czarist regime, or to Moscow university students who blocked a central Moscow thoroughfare in 1905.
“Encouragement from Washington will not work either,” he said. “No one but us will solve our problems, or build a sovereign democratic state in Russia.”
Frustration began building here after the State Department said the arrests “seemed contrary not only to commitments Russia has made but also to Russia’s long-term interests.” Less than a week before that, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, slammed the second conviction of former oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky as “an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends.”
The handling of street protests, like the December 31 event where Boris Y. Nemtsov, a prominent opposition leader, was arrested, is a particularly raw topic. Authorities were loosening restrictions on opposition activities until last month, when ethnic tensions boiled over in a mass rally outside Red Square. After that, leaders made it clear that street politics would now be under the strictest control, and that feedback from the West was not welcome.
“After Obama came to power there was a period of hope,” said Aleksei Ostrovsky, a parliament member, after the State Department’s statement on Mr. Nemtsov’s arrest. “But these acts of the leadership, which we now see coming from Washington, force us to say that those hopes were unfounded.”

  Copyright 2011. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

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