Less than 48 hours after Alexey Navalny was excluded from running in Russia’s March 18 presidential elections, the contest has already become the occasion for a confrontation between Washington and Moscow.
Noel Clay, an official at the State Department, commented on the decision taken by the Russian Central Electoral Commission on Monday. “We continue to express concern with the current application of strict measures by the Russian government against independent voices—from journalists and civil society activists and opposition politicians. Such actions indicate that the Russian government failed to protect the space in Russia for the realization of human rights and implementation of fundamental freedoms,” the American diplomat said.
The interest taken by the U.S. in the status of human rights in Russia is more than a little suspect, as confirmed by the fact that the White House has found no time to defend the union rights of Russian truck drivers, who have been on strike for months. Just before Christmas, two of their leaders were arrested in Moscow, allegedly for tax fraud.
The Russian reaction to the statements by the U.S. State Department didn’t take long. Marya Zacharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, made a sarcastic comment in a Facebook post: “And these are the people who have been outraged this whole year by the alleged ‘interference’ by Russia in their electoral process? This statement by the Department of State, which will surely not be the only one, is a direct interference both in the election process and in the internal affairs of our state.”
Only 10 days ago, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, had complained that the Americans had “tried to interfere in our elections many times … for example, when U.S. diplomats attended the meetings of opposition parties, including those that are not represented in the parliament.”
The battle of words has begun, and the Russian presidential elections are likely to become another battlefield in the new Cold War. Moreover, these exchanges will not help Navalny, who until now had managed to avoid the accusation of being funded from abroad.
Meanwhile, Wednesday night Lavrov and Rex Tillerson had a long telephone conversation, at the initiative of the American side, about all the contentious issues that had opened up between the two countries: first of all, the Ukrainian situation (as Wednesday there was an exchange of 300 prisoners belonging to both sides, who will finally be able to spend New Year’s Eve at home), and also the issue of North Korea. On the latter, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s offer to act as a mediator.
The proposal for mediation is not mere propaganda, as confirmed by the statements of former Chairman of the State Duma Ivan Rybkin on his recent return from a mission to Pyongyang, who said that the North Korean leaders would be willing to negotiate with the U.S. with Russian mediation, and even that he was “the bearer of proposals by the Koreans, including technical and practical ones” to resolve the crisis.