Today, in a bi-partisan vote of 71 – 26, the Senate ratified an arms control deal with the Russian Federation that seeks to reduce the arsenal of ready-to-go nuclear warheads to 1,550. A first-ever treaty to be passed during Senate’s lame-duck sessions, START was promoted heavily by the White House as a marker of improved relations between Washington and the Kremlin.
This deliverable outcome of the “reset” in the Russian-American bilateral relationship is a significant one, but the Obama Administration should by no means stop there.
The United States should more loudly voice a range of human rights concerns in Russia, an area where there have been few deliverables from the Russian government: there is still no accountability for numerous murders and attacks on prominent journalists and human rights defenders, and the atmosphere in which human rights and opposition activists operate remains hostile.
Last week’s public demonstrations of ethnic hatred that escalated into violent attacks once again brought to light another concern – the problem of racist violence and other hate crime – that needs to be part of the bilateral dialogue. With the ratification of START and the looming acceptance of Russia into the World Trade Organization, important economic and military achievements in the Russian-American relationship, the place given to human rights in those discussions must be elevated.
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