So, we now have a bilateral presidential commision, to be coordinated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
It includes 13 working groups headed by corresponding high-level Russian and American officials (e.g., Health: Tatyana A. Golikova, Minister of Health, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services). One of the pairs is rather eyebrow-raising (brought to my attention by Dmitry Sidorov, the Washington, DC correspondent for Kommersant, writing on EJ.ru):
Civil Society: Vladislav Surkov, First Deputy Chief of Staff, Presidential Administration, and Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia , National Security Council
Say it ain’t so! On one side, Michael McFaul, a strong opponent of Russian authoritarianism, a champion of the “color revolutions,” a passionate believer in democracy who takes pride in having been a part of Russia’s democracy movement in the 1980s and ’90s. On the other side, Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s Putin-era ideological enforcer, creator of the term “sovereign democracy” (which seems to be shorthand for “we’ll define democracy as we damn well please, and everyone else should keep their nose out of our business”) and of Nashi, the thuggish “youth movement” launched with the express purpose of thwarting grass-roots democratic activism of the kind that brought about Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution”). The same Surkov who just recently rejected the idea that the crisis should be an incentive for the Kremlin to loosen its iron grip on political life within Russia.
Putting Surkov at the head of a commission on the civil society is a bit like putting Bernie Madoff at the head of a commission on business ethics. Or Britney Spears at the head of a commission on marriage and the family.
At Obama’s meeting with the Russian opposition today, according to Grani.ru (in Russian), Sergei Mitrokhin of the semi-loyalist Yabloko opined that “Russian-American relations must be developed in such a way as to involve the Russian political and military elite into common projects, which will contribute to the development of democracy in our country.” If that’s the idea here, the notion of McFaul trying to teach Surkov democracy is darkly hilarious.
Later, at the Russian-American NGO forum where Obama appeared for about half an hour, Russian participants including veteran human rights activists Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Lev Ponomarev, and Sergei Kovalev asked Obama to replace Surkov. That, of course, would be quite a slap in the face to the Russians; it will be interesting to see how this impasse will be managed. One has to wonder what McFaul, also present at the forum, was thinking — he must have seen the makeup of the commission ahead of time.
Kommersant‘s Sidorov believes that the Surkov appointment signifies “the triumph of ‘realism’ and, simultaneously, the rejection of the principle of support for democratic transformation and civil society in other countries.” I hope he’s wrong. Nonetheless, it is a rather alarming choice, seriously at odds with Obama’s pro-democracy statements in his Moscow speech.