Obama: Strong on Leno, No-Show in Moscow

By Innokenty Grekov
Fighting Discrimination Program

This strong message from President Obama is welcome and in line with prior rhetoric confronting countries that “try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” But wouldn’t it better for Russian President Putin to hear these words personally from the U.S. president, who could then go on Russian television to stand up for gays and lesbians, and others who’re threatened by the Russian government these days?

Instead, Obama will not be traveling to Moscow next month for a bilateral meeting with the Russian president, and the two leaders will have zero face-to-face time at the September G-20 Summit in Strelna, Saint Petersburg. Tensions over NSA leaker Edward Snowden are reportedly to blame for the canceled talks—not United States’ dismay over Russia’s human rights record or arming Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin has already announced its “disappointment” with the decision.

Russia’s discrimination against LGBT persons is getting worse. The government, for example, used “anti-extremism” legislation to persecute LGBT people when a court in the southern city of Krasnodar denied registration to Sochi Pride House. The group’s purposes—to confront homophobia and promote tolerance—were, the court said, “extremist” and a threat to “Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

More recently, the Duma unanimously adopted and Putin signed into law a bill banning the propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations.” The law is ambiguous, ineffective, discriminatory, and unconstitutional. Putin’s own government said so in 2004 & 2006, yet it chose to launch a populist assault on the fundamental rights of Russia’s LGBT persons.

Obama was right to condemn the law and the recent developments in Russia, yet most Russians will be unaware of these remarks. The cancelled bilateral summit in Moscow is a missed opportunity for the United States to raise these issues directly with the Russian government and to communicate openly with the Russian public.

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Published on August 7, 2013

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