American Prospect senior editor Tara McElvey writes that "Hillary Clinton and Obama adviser Michael McFaul may have made it seem as though the United States had become less interested in supporting democracy and human-rights advocates in Russia, but today United Nations experts made their views about these issues crystal clear and addressed the blatant abuses that have taken place in the country in recent years." Good luck with that, United Nations!
To be fair, I'm with McElvey on this (why not browbeat the Kremlin on its hideous human rights record?), though to think that a United Nations "grilling" of the Kremlin deputy justice minister will have any effect on Russian policy is as naive as thinking that the dynamic Putin-Medvedev duo are willing to turn the screws on Iran in exchange for scrapping missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. McElvey, though, has lowered the bar of success for the Obama foreign policy team, arguing that "despite the gaffes, Clinton's visit also had a positive effect: Russians and Americans were talking openly about the murders of journalists, the imprisonment of scholars, and the discrimination against gays–and that's a step in the right direction."
I suspect we'll be seeing a great deal more of this in the coming months. As long as unidentified officials are talking about pervasive homophobia and the erosion of democracy, or whatever the issue might be, it's a "step in the right direction." The problem with the Russia example, as McElvey should well know, is that all of this stuff is regularly talked discussed in Russia, conferences are held, and the opposition journalists of Novaya Gazeta and Ekho Moskvy (in which, it should be pointed out, Gazprom owns a majority stake) trudge forward. Yes, they talk, but nothing ever changes. The tricky issue is this: Ordinary Russians, as Nikolai Petrov pointed out this week, haven't been hit too hard by the economic crisis and don't mind living in a Potemkin democracy, provided a certain standard of living is maintained. And Messrs. Putin and Medvedev are well aware of this.