Rice Invites Yavlinsky, Not Kasparov, to Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin's most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador's Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather "civil society leaders."

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. "She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened," Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current "half partnership, half confrontation" to a "strategic partnership" with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the "firm link" between the country's domestic development and its foreign policies.

"I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear," he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin's government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday's breakfast meeting: "I think it is expected."

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. "Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately," said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. "I can't say why she didn't meet us this time, but, frankly, it's very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government."

MT, Reuters