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Kerry meets veteran Russian activist ahead of Putin talks


John Kerry. Source: Wikipedia

John Kerry. Source: Wikipedia

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday met with Russia’s oldest human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva ahead of his high-stakes talks with strongman President Vladimir Putin.

Kerry’s meeting with the 88-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group came as critics accuse the Russian authorities of further clamping down on freedoms and rights and will not go unnoticed in the Kremlin.

“He asked what is happening in Russia and what effect the law on non-governmental organisations has had on society,” Alexeyeva told AFP, relating the details of her 40-minute meeting with Washington’s top diplomat.

She told Kerry that the controversial law aimed to “destroy the nascent civil society.”

Putin has signed off on a controversial law banning “undesirable” non-governmental organisations in a move condemned by human rights groups.

The law allows authorities to bar foreign civil society groups seen as threatening Russia’s “defence capabilities” or “constitutional foundations” and go after local activists working with them.

The measure complements legislation already passed in 2012, which forces NGOs that receive foreign funds to register as a “foreign agent.”

“I replied that the invasion of Crimea worsened Russia’s international position but very much strengthened Putin inside the country because the imperial syndrome is still strong here,” she said.

“It’s unlikely we will soon become a democratic country,” because of Russia’s “imperial” posturing, she said, while adding that democracy will come “for sure but not so soon”.

The veteran activist expressed hope that Russia’s civil society would withstand the pressure.

“We are being persecuted but we will survive as we did in the Soviet Union,” she said, noting that Soviet dissidents had to confront the enormous state machine.

“But where is the USSR now? And we are still alive and stand strong across the country.”

At the weekend Russian police detained over 30 activists, including the leader of a liberal party and several other prominent figures who marked Constitution Day with protests in Moscow over rights abuses.

Activists and ordinary Russians have complained that since the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last year, Russian authorities have clamped down on peaceful protests, leaving critics with few outlets to express their disagreement with Kremlin policies.

Kerry and Putin were due to meet later Tuesday.

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