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7 Jul, 2009 18:35

Opposition has its say on Russia-US relations

President Barack Obama and Russian opposition leaders met on Tuesday to discuss bilateral relations, a proposed missile defense shield, human rights and the fate of jailed Yukos executives.

On Tuesday, the second day of his visit to Moscow, Obama had lunch with eight representatives of Russian opposition parties.

After the meeting, Boris Nemtsov, the co-chairman of Solidarity opposition group, told Interfax news agency: “We had quite a free exchange of opinions. Obama in fact did not ask anything, and each of us said what we wanted to say.”

Nemtsov said he personally talked “about problems in the process of resetting our relations.” A lack of trust is one of those problems, according to the politician.

“Freedom of speech and democracy are basic values for the US leadership,” Nemtsov said. “And for ours, it’s censorship and the authorities' monopoly over everything.”

However, it is not only internal politics and democracy in Russia that they talked about. Like the ruling party, the opposition is concerned about the controversial issue of America’s planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Yabloko party leader Sergey Mitrokhin told Interfax that Obama said “he was in a process of reviewing the decisions on the European missile defense system and did not rule out the possibility of joint steps in this direction with Russia in the future.”

Another opposition figure, Leonid Gozman, said after Obama’s meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev that the American president really wants to stop confrontation between the two countries.

“He is a very sincere person, who believes in what he says,” said Gozman, a co-chairman of the Right Cause party. “And democracy for him is not an instrument to achieve his goals but a value he truly believes in.”

“Obama really wants to succeed in relations with Russia,” he added.

Overall, the opposition seemed to be pleased with the meeting.

Garry Kasparov, another co-chairman of Solidarity, said Obama struck the right balance by meeting not only with the Russian officials but also with the opposition and NGOs.

“The US president is willing to build relations not as the White House with the Kremlin, but as the American people with the Russian people," he said.