The authorities of the United States decided to withdraw from the work group on the issues of civil society of the Russian-American bilateral presidential commission, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia said.
According to him, the decision was made because of the recent moves of the Russian government to control civil society. Melia assured that the United States would continue to work in the field of human rights with the Russian government and civil society representatives.
However, he stressed that Washington wanted this work to be of informative character. "We remain committed to working with the Russian civil society in support of its objectives, including by further strengthening the links between the civil societies of Russia and the United States," said Thomas Melia.
Press Secretary of the President of Russia, Dmitry Peskov, expressed regret at the decision of U.S. authorities. "In any case, if they cancel a format of bilateral activities without an adequate replacement, this is regrettable," Interfax quoted Peskov.
Recall, the U.S.-Russian Presidential Commission was established in July 2009, during the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Russia. It was designed to improve cooperation between Moscow and Washington after the White House announced a "reset" of relations between the two countries.
As part of the commission, there were 16 work groups established on various issues - from anti-terrorist struggle to issues of culture and health. The group on civil society was one of them.
At the time of establishment, the group was headed by first deputy head of the Presidential Administration (now Deputy Prime Minister, the head of the administration of the Government of the Russian Federation), Vladislav Surkov, and Special Assistant to the President of the United States (now the United States Ambassador to Russia), Michael McFaul. In early 2012, they were replaced by Russian Foreign Ministry commissioner for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, and the aforementioned Thomas Melia.
It is worth noting that the American diplomat, speaking in December 2011 in the U.S. Senate, said that the elections to the Russian Parliament, the State Duma, were forged. In addition, he supported the adoption of the so-called "Magnitsky Law."
It should be noted that the personnel of the work group raised concerns among the pro-Western part of Russia's human rights community. In October 2011, Ludmila Alekseyeva, Lev Ponomarev and Yuri Dzhibladze addressed to Deputy Secretary of State Michael Posner, who was visiting Moscow, to include them in the work group. The request was heard, but nothing happened.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Nikonov, does not believe that the end of the work group may change anything strongly in the relations between the two countries. "This move per se is naturally unfriendly. It implies further escalation of conflict relations," he told Pravda.ru.
According to Vyacheslav Nikonov, it was a demonstrative move. "In America, they are concerned about the way how relations between the state and civil society develop in Russia. We are also concerned about what is happening in the U.S. in terms of civil rights - take Guantanamo, for example," he said and added: "I think the relations will not be affected much, but that was an unfriendly step to make."