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Democratic Backsliding In Russia

Civil society is under increasing pressure in Russia. Ominous signs include Russian bogus allegations that British spies have been funding non-governmental organizations, or N-G-Os; repressive government action against the Russian Chechen Friendship Society; and efforts by the Ministry of Justice to revoke the registration of the Russian Human Rights Research Center.

All this is worrisome as Russia assumes the presidency of the Group of Eight, says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

"We are very concerned, particularly about some of the elements of democratization in Russia that seem to be going in the wrong direction. This is not the Soviet Union, let's not overstate the case. . . .But clearly, the law on non-governmental organizations is a problem. Clearly, the use of energy in a way that it was used concerning Ukraine is a problem. And Russia is now the president of the G-8 process. We would hope for behavior that is befitting the president of the G-8."

These and other developments, says Barry Lowenkron, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, "suggest that the Russian government has a deep mistrust of civil society, and especially of organizations that receive foreign funding and are engaged in politically sensitive activities like human rights monitoring."

Mr. Lowenkron stressed that while N-G-Os may support or criticize governments, they are not enemies of governments. N-G-O activities are essential to promoting democratic developments around the world, including in Russia.

"The question is open as to where Russia's future development is going," said Secretary of State Rice. "But I don't see that there is anything positive to be gained by the isolation of Russia from institutions [like the G-8] where [democratic] values are demanded of its members, from institutions where those values are practiced by those members."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.