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What Russia needs most: Civil society engagement, not appeasement

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The American co-chair, Michael McFaul, senior director at the National Security Council, is a Stanford professor and a democracy expert. Mr. McFaul knows Moscow and its democracy movement better than anyone in the Obama administration.

He also knows what Prime Minister Putin, and the Medvedev administration, are doing to that movement. But the White House went out of its way to make the Russians feel welcome – and feel welcome they did. The Moscow media hailed the meeting as a “dialogue of the equals.”

But it can’t be so: Russia is at the bottom of the Transparency International corruption index. Russia is also classified as a “mostly unfree” economy: the 143rd on The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s “Index of Economic Freedom,” above Vietnam but behind Haiti. Yet the discussion focused equally on corruption there and in the US. Conservative estimates put the number of Russia’s homeless children at over 2 million. Yet the group spent time discussing child abuse, which is on the decline, in America.

Indeed, anti-Americanism seems to be Russia’s state policy, as the Kremlin pays for movies, TV shows, books, articles, and blogs lambasting America.

Even more important were things absent on the group’s agenda. Absent from discussion were the murders of journalists and human rights activists such as Anna Politkovskaya of the Novaya Gazeta; barriers to political party activities; and pervasive censorship in the media.

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