MOSCOW – Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured members of Russia's struggling independent journalists and rights activists Tuesday that the effort to improve ties with Moscow does not mean Washington is abandoning support for democracy in Russia.
"In our discussions with the Russian government, we will continue to express our support for efforts to improve governance and advance human rights. We seek to reset relations with the Russian government, but we also, in parallel, seek to deepen the ties between our societies," Clinton said in prepared remarks. "We can do both."
She then met privately in the U.S. ambassador's residence with representatives of Russia's tiny community of liberal democrats, whom she described as "remarkable, courageous" people "who risk their lives to speak out for human rights."
The Kremlin had referred to the Bush administration's strong criticism of Russia's human rights record as interference in its domestic affairs. There has been concern among liberals that the new American administration may choose to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Russia in order to forge better political ties with Moscow.
Clinton sought to dispel those fears.
Participants in Tuesday's meeting said they were encouraged.
"I think that there is still a high interest that Russia's government be transparent and that interests should not be traded for values," said Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper often critical of the Kremlin.
Prominent rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said Clinton understands "how hard it is for rights defenders to work in Russia" and noted the number of journalists and rights activists who have been killed in Russia in recent years.
Clinton said later that the U.S. was encouraged by President Dmitry Medvedev's comments on the importance of civil society and she looked forward to discussing with him how "a lot of his vision will be translated into action." Clinton met with Medvedev on Tuesday evening.
Since he assumed the presidency in 2008, Medvedev has spoken out in defense of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Critics, however, note that the words have not been followed by deeds.
Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said after the Clinton meeting that he believed the reset in Russia-U.S. relations would be "slow and cautious" and that the United States was still prepared to "give up something for a change in Russia's stance" on Afghanistan and Iran.