During his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, President George W. Bush expressed concern over the health of democracy in Russia. Mr. Bush said Russia has made “tremendous progress” since the fall of communism fourteen years ago. But he also said he had told Mr. Putin that Russia needs to respect the “universal principles” of democracy:
“It's in my country's interest that Russia be a strong and viable partner with the United States. It's very important that we establish not only a working relationship, but that we understand that in the twenty-first century, strong countries are built by developing strong democracies. And so we talked about democracy. Democracies always reflect a country's customs and culture, and I know that. Yet democracies have certain things in common: they have a rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition.”
The Russian government has launched criminal cases against the Yukos oil company and various company executives for tax evasion and other alleged crimes. Yukos' former chief executive officer, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and two other Yukos executives have been in jail for a year and a half or more. Independent observers and the U.S. State Department have both expressed concern that the charges are politically motivated.
According to the State Department, pressure by the Russian government has limited freedom of expression and the independence of some media, particularly major national television networks and regional media outlets. Russia's Media Ministry shut down the country's last major independent television station, TVS, in 2003, replacing it with a state-run sports channel.
President Putin, for his part, says that Russia made an irrevocable choice in favor of democracy following the break-up of the Soviet Union. "Any kind of turn towards totalitarianism for Russia would be impossible," he said.
President Bush said Mr. Putin's declaration that Russia will not retreat from the path of democracy was the most important statement made at the Bratislava summit. Mr. Bush also made it clear that he will not drop this issue, even as the U.S. and Russia continue to cooperate in many ways. "It is democracy and freedom," Mr. Bush said, "that bring true security and prosperity in every land."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.