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Leading Russian rights activists stand Obama up

Published time: September 04, 2013 14:36
Ludmila Alekseyeva, human right activist and head of Moscow Helsinki Group (RIA Novosti/
Iliya Pitalev)

Ludmila Alekseyeva, human right activist and head of Moscow Helsinki Group (RIA Novosti/ Iliya Pitalev)

The heads of Russia’s oldest human rights groups have said they decided not to attend the meeting with the US president after it was rescheduled several times.

The three people whom the mass media call the symbols of the Russian HR movement – Lyudmila Alekseyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lev Ponomaryov of the For Human Rights Movement and Svetlana Gannushkina, the chairperson of the Citizen’s Assistance Committee.

The planned meeting between the US President and Russian rights advocates will take place in St. Petersburg ahead of the G20 summit.

All three of the activists live and work in Moscow and they told reporters on Wednesday that they had to cancel their tickets and postpone various important events several times because the US side were dithering on the precise date of the meeting.

It is not that I refused myself, I was forced to. I have been invited and I accepted the invitation with gratitude. I bought the tickets for September 6. A short time later they call me and say that everything was rescheduled on the 5th. I said that it was OK, again with gratitude, made changes in my own schedule and changed the tickets. On Wednesday morning they call me and say that everything will take place on the 6th. And this time I was simply unable to postpone my own Friday event,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quoted Lev Ponomaryov as saying.

The rights veteran added that he was not refusing to meet Obama and that such events were proof of the US President’s stable attitude to the problems of democracy in Russia, but the assistants’ blunders made the September meeting impossible.

As far as I’m aware, no one from Moscow is going there,” said Lyudmila Alekseyeva. The 86-year old activist also noted that the date of the meeting was changed several times and she simply had to apologize and refuse.

One rights group, however, has already confirmed its participation. The St Petersburg-based LGBT Network group told the Associated Press that they had accepted the invitation. Another St Pete gay rights group, Coming Out, said they were undecided on whether to go or not.

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian rights campaigners was announced after the US leader decided that he would not be holding a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the visit to Russia. The US side blamed numerous disagreements between the nations, such as the Syria crisis, the situation with whistleblower Edward Snowden, the missile defense system and others.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Kremlin was calm and collected regarding the US President’s plans, adding that the foreign leader “was free to do anything he wanted” when he was not busy attending the G20 Summit events.

At the same time, popular Russian daily Kommersant quoted an unnamed source in the government as saying that the meeting between Obama and rights campaigners was “strange”.

You either meet both the authorities and those who criticize them, or neither. And when Obama announced that he was cancelling the meeting with Putin he said he would be only going to the G20 summit. What do the NGOs have to do with this?” the source said.

It is likely, that the US President needs to show his citizens how he cares about the Human Rights all over the world,” the daily’s interlocutor suggested.