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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Holds 'Courtesy Meeting' With NGOs

Invited NGO Leaders
Alexei Yablokov, Center for Environmental Policy
Yelena Gerasimova, Center for Social and Labor Rights
Boris Pustyntsev, Citizen's Watch
Yevgeny Belyakov, Civitas Foundation
Roman Yorick, Doctors to Children
Lilia Shibanova, GOLOS Association
Marina Liborakina, Institute for Urban Economics
Manana Aslamazyan, Internews Russia
Arseny Roginsky, Memorial
Vyacheslav Shirokov, Model UN Clubs
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Moscow Helsinki Group
Marina Dubrovskaya, National Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Sergei Litovchenko, Russian Managers Association
Tatyana Nikolayevna, Russian Red Cross
Svetlana Kotova, Perspektiva
Yelena Malitskaya, Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center
Andrei Pavlov, Special Olympics Committee of Russia
Maya Rusakova, Stellit

U.S. President George Bush met with the leaders of 18 nongovernmental organizations Monday morning for talks reminiscent of former presidential meetings with Soviet dissidents and Yeltsin-era opposition groups. But in contrast to those meetings -- initiated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan -- Bush's meeting was short on criticism of the Russian government, participants said.

While the brief, half-hour meeting did touch on freedom of the press, democracy and human rights, Bush focused more on the fight against HIV and AIDS in Russia and support for orphans, said participants, who described Bush as "polite."

"There wasn't much criticism. It was a courtesy meeting," said Manana Aslamazyan, head of the Moscow-based media-support NGO Internews and the only media representative present.

"I thought some basic problems were not brought up," said Svetlana Kotova, a lawyer with Perspektiva, a group that supports disabled people. "Problems with democracy weren't really shown. Neither were problems between government and business."

Bush told the group that his strong friendship with President Vladimir Putin allowed him to privately bring up criticisms on human rights and democracy. He stressed that Washington would continue to support civil society in Russia.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, praised the meeting as a sign to the Russian government that "the democratic world is taking the position of civil society in this country seriously."

Criticism was reserved for informal talks with U.S. officials after Bush left. Participants accused the Kremlin of monopolizing power and said Bush "should not put too much faith in his good relationship with Putin" because Putin, as a former KGB agent, is well versed in manipulating friendships, Kotova said.