Rice Pushes for Fair Elections in Belarus
In the past, I’ve been very critical of the Bush administration’s timid stance toward Russia. So it’s only right that I give credit for recent progress on this foreign-policy front. Here’s the latest encouraging development:
The United States has issued a call for free and fair elections in Belarus next year. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it is time for change in what she calls Europe’s “last true dictatorship.”
The United States has pushed Belarus high up its agenda for democratic change during Secretary Rice’s just-concluded trip to Europe.
Speaking at the end of a NATO meeting in Lithuania, Ms. Rice told reporters the United States will push hard for free and fair elections in Belarus next year.
“We will support the idea that elections, when they are held, should be real elections,” she said. “They should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be prepared and ready to help Belarus to carry out free and fair elections in 2006.”
She addressed the subject shortly after a meeting with Belarussian dissidents opposed to the hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the eastern European country since 1994.
Ms. Rice told the group the United States admires their courage and determination. The dissidents said they are making plans for mass street protests like those that brought democratic change to Georgia and Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, this statement does not go over very well in Moscow:
Russia and the United States clashed on Belarus on Thursday as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rebuffed a call by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for change in central Europe’s “last true dictatorship.”
“I think the democratic process and the process of reform cannot be imposed from outside,” Lavrov said at a news conference in the Lithuanian capital during a NATO-Russia meeting.
“We would not, of course, advocate what some people call regime change anywhere,” he said, reacting to a remark by Rice late Wednesday that Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko ran “the last true dictatorship in the center of Europe,” and that it was time for change.
But Rice on Thursday insisted the United States had a role to play in bringing democracy to Belarus, and she urged the world to monitor closely presidential elections there in 2006.
“The 2006 elections really do present an excellent opportunity for the international community to focus on the need for free and fair elections in Belarus,” she told a news conference after Lavrov had made his comments.
She said Washington would not intervene directly in Belarus to force change but could and should “shine a spotlight on places where people are still denied freedom.”
Note that this “clash” takes place in the aftermath of a state visit:
Visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Russia to stay the course of democratic development, saying it will benefit all nations, including Russia. Ms. Rice made the appeal during closed-door talks at the Kremlin Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ms. Rice reiterated that message in brief comments to reporters. She says in order for the bilateral relationship to prosper, there must be continued democratic development.
“Russia has been experiencing a kind of concentration of power in the presidency, in the Kremlin, really at the expense of countervailing institutions like a strong legislature, or an independent judiciary, or perhaps most importantly truly independent media,” said Ms. Rice. “And this means that whatever the intentions of President Putin, or those around him, you don’t have the ability of those other institutions to provide a check on power.”
Ms. Rice also called for greater transparency and rule of law in Russia, adding that the United States would be watching closely next week, when a verdict is expected in the trial of former Yukos chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed for allegations of widespread corruption and fraud.
Hopefully, the trend continues.