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Remarks at Reception for Civil Society Leaders

Good afternoon. And I wanted to thank (inaudible) for welcoming us all here at the Spaso House. I feel deeply honored to have a chance to meet with you this afternoon and express to you how highly I regard the work that you are doing on behalf of your country and the Russian people. Both President Obama and I want to stress strongly how the United States stands with those who work for freedom, campaign for justice and democracy, and who risk their lives to speak out for human rights.

We believe that Russians yearn for (inaudible) rights, just as Americans and people around the world. I have been encouraged by President Medvedev’s statements towards a more open society and his stated commitment to combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law. He has also acknowledged that Russia’s prosperity is dependent upon responsible governance, because stable economic development is impossible without accountable, transparent governance.

We believe that innovation and entrepreneurship can only thrive in an open society where knowledge and ideas are exchanged as freely as goods and capital. Just as competition in the marketplace fuels growth and better products, political competition produces more accountable governance and better political solutions.

These are causes that many of you have championed for years, and they are vitally important to Russia’s future. A society cannot be truly open when those who stand up and speak out are murdered and people cannot trust the rule of law when killers act with impunity. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in retaliation for their work. But in only one case have the killers been convicted. When violence like this goes unpunished in any society, it’s undermining the rule of law, chills public discourse, which is, after all, the lifeblood of an open society, and it diminishes the public’s confidence and trust in their own government.

Those of you here today not only understand the risks, you live them. You have seen friends and colleagues harassed, intimidated, and even killed. And yet, you go on. You go on working and writing and speaking and refusing to be silenced. So I thank you and applaud (inaudible) the courage (inaudible) human rights (inaudible), civil society (inaudible), bloggers and journalists all play a vital role in holding (inaudible) accountable (inaudible) abuses of power. And I want you to know that it is not coincidence that President Obama met with a civil society group in July and that I am here with you to underscore a very simple message: The United States stands firmly by your side.

In our discussions with the Russian Government, we continue to express our support for efforts to improve governance and advance human rights (inaudible). Forging this new partnership with your government is only part of what we intend to (inaudible). We seek to deepen ties between our societies and our peoples. We believe they can do both at the same time, because ultimately, we not only wish to have a closer government-to-government cooperation between the United States and Russia, but we hope to build that on a strong foundation of accountable, democratic governance that will be a very clear signal to our own people, to the Russian people, and to the world that we will lead based on values and not just (inaudible).

So please stay in touch with us. We invite your comments, your suggestions, your constructive criticisms. The ambassador and his staff know you all well, and we hope that this will be part of an ongoing dialogue that will enable us to work together and fulfill many of the hopes and aspirations that you represent.

Now, the ambassador has (inaudible) to each of you, so I want to thank you for coming and I look forward to hearing from him directly about issues that you wish to raise with me. And I thank the press for being here today to be a part of this so we can have a very open and personal opportunity.

 
 

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