A Challenge for Obama: Twist Putin's Arm

6.14.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

'Mr. Putin, tear down these laws!'

President Obama's next Monday and Tuesday will consist of lots of talk, small and policy both, with foreign leaders at the G-8 conference in Northern Ireland.

A gathering of bigwigs from the world's eight richest industrial nations, the confab's mainly about dollars, cents, rubles, yuan and other forms of currency, but there's also room for leaders to discuss other matters, and a number of U.S. Senators are hoping President Obama takes the time to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin about his nation's alarming acceptance of human rights abuses.

In addition to protesting Russia's support for Syria's rogue President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president who has been using chemical weapons against his own people, many on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee suggested President Obama push Putin back from the edge of anti-gay tyranny.

"What I'm going to work [on] with Senator [Ron] Johnson, Senator [Chris] Murphy, and Senator [Rand] Paul is a bipartisan letter that we can send to the administration saying that we are very concerned and perhaps sending them a summary of this hearing -- and we'll send that to [Secretary of State] John Kerry, as well," said Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer after a hearing called "A Dangerous Slide Backwards: Russia's Deteriorating Human Rights Situation." "I think that would be a good way to show bipartisan support for putting this on the agenda and not letting it be swept under the rug."

One of the people who testified during that hearing was Frank S. Jannuzi, Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, who explicitly mentioned the Russian Duma's recent decision to approve an extension of municipal laws that prohibit "homosexual propaganda," a law that more or less makes it illegal to be gay, openly at least, in Russia. From Jannuzi's testimony, which can be downloaded here.

"In recent months, Russian authorities have intensified their assault on basic freedoms and undermined rule of law. The assault takes many forms. New bills – passed just this week by the country’s lower house of Parliament and expected to be approved in the near future by the upper house of Parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin – restrict the activities of non‐governmental organizations, criminalize public actions “committed to insult the religious feelings of believers” and outlaw activism by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and their supporters. I would note that the new law criminalizing “propaganda of non‐traditional sexual relations,” passed 436‐0 by the rubber stamp Duma this week, comes as much of the world marks Pride month."

Clearly Putin's not interested in maintaining civil liberties won after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but if President Obama, who just last night touted LGBT equality at the White House, truly wants to represent the American ideals, and to support a fair economy that includes all talent, not just straights, he'll use this weekend as an opportunity to twist Putin's infamously strong arm on a matter of global social, economic and cultural importance.

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