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July 10, 2018

Helsinki Summit: A Review of Vladimir Putin’s Record of Human Rights Violations and Attacks on Democratic Institutions

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On July 16, U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. According to White House officials, President Trump is prepared to use the meeting to discuss arms control, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, its meddling in U.S. and European elections, and its backing of Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, among other topics.

Given President Putin’s abhorrent record concerning human rights and his attacks on democratic institutions at home and abroad, President Trump should, in addition to these topics, underscore America’s support for a rules-based international order, the rule of law, and universal rights. Reaffirming the U.S. support for the promotion and protection of human rights would increase American leverage in any negotiation with the Russian leader, while allaying the concern of America’s democratic allies that the United States has abandoned shared ideals.    

By all indications, President Trump will not raise these issues. Instead, it is likely that he will adhere to his consistent record of praising Putin, despite the latter leader’s repressive, kleptocratic policies at home, the Russian government’s interference in democratic elections in the United States and multiple European countries, its military invasions of neighboring countries, its support for a Syrian regime accused of war crimes, its use of a deadly nerve agent on the territory of an American ally, and its stated strategy of seeking to weaken American influence.

As a primer in advance of the Helsinki summit, this factsheet briefly documents the many ways the Russian government under President Putin maintains power at home by suppressing the fundamental freedoms of its people, and the ways it undermines the rules-based international order and supports human rights violations abroad.   

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