The following op-ed by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) was published in The Washington Times February 25, 2005.
A month after delivering his visionary inaugural address on the commitment of the United States to foster freedom and democracy, President Bush sat down yesterday at the Bratislava summit in Slovakia with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the architect of post-Soviet "managed" democracy.
The Bush-Putin summit comes at a time when the Kremlin is on the offensive. It is moving to contain the burgeoning democracy in the former Soviet Union and to cement Russia's ties with those among the former Soviet republics which have the poorest human rights records. Russia is attempting to distance the United States from those countries. Of particular interest to us as chairman and co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Russian rhetoric assailing the democracy-promoting activities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has intensified.
Moscow is now threatening to paralyze the OSCE by holding its budget hostage. Russia reportedly will not give consent to the budget unless a committee is created to review the electoral commitments of the OSCE. The committee would attempt to revisit and water down the longstanding commitments using the pretext of setting "minimum standards" for judging whether elections are indeed free and fair. Russia appears determined to undermine the democratic commitments that are at the very heart of the OSCE, the power of the ideals behind OSCE commitments Russia has agreed to support, including that the will of the people is the basis of legitimate government.
Russia and its allies -- particularly the outpost of tyranny, Belarus -- have responded to the pro-democracy developments in Georgia and Ukraine by attacking the commitments of the OSCE. Russia, the other former Soviet states and all OSCE countries have formally agreed that a democracy based on the will of the people and expressed regularly through free and fair elections, is the only acceptable form of government for our nations.
While claiming to observe the voluntary commitments accepted when their countries joined the OSCE in 1992, most leaders within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have remained in control by rigging elections and excluding potential rivals, sometimes using criminal means, which is in contradiction to the commitments. Since the late 1990s, Russian-led observer delegations from the CIS routinely approved of elections in CIS countries, which OSCE-led observers overtly criticized or damned with quiet condemnation.
We understand that some members of the OSCE in Vienna are inclined to pursue a policy of engaging Russia on the issue, in the hopes of finding some common ground. While we are not adverse to engagement with the Russians, the fundamentals of democratization and elections must not be fodder for appeasement or used as bargaining chips. Indeed, we have already found common ground: the considerable body of existing OSCE commitments on democracy that our countries have signed and that Mr. Putin and his shrinking circle of allies seem intent on scuttling.
We must not ignore the fact that human rights, civil and religious liberties and media freedom have been gravely undermined on Mr. Putin's watch. The deteriorating human-rights trends give cause for serious concern. As Mr. Bush directly declared in his inaugural address, "we will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people." The Bratislava summit will provide a timely opportunity for the president to underscore this point face to face with his Russian counterpart.
It is also essential that Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice respond resolutely to this challenge, insisting that there be no retreat from OSCE commitments and principles to placate Mr. Putin. Moscow may be intent on precipitating a crisis in the OSCE, or even threatening its very existence. Nevertheless, having stood firm against rigged elections in Ukraine, the United States must not be bullied into concessions. Watering down the democratic content of the OSCE would not only undermine the organization's reason for being, but would undercut the very people struggling to be free.
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, serve respectively as chairman and co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.