The widely-followed mayoral election in Sochi, Russia this spring was neither free nor fair according to Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Kremlin opposition leader and candidate in the race. Nemstov described the election as a ‘special operation’ conducted by the Kremlin that included censorship of his campaign, physical violence against him, and the arrests of his supporters.
 
New legislation that makes it virtually impossible for independent parties to register with the government  has been a major blow to Russian opposition movements like Nemtsov’s Solidarnost, which will now only be able to participate in local elections. 
 
Nemstov joined Robert Kagan and Ambassador James Collins at Carnegie for a discussion on the status of Russian democracy and its relation to American interests.
 
Resetting the U.S.-Russia Relationship
Nemtsov urged the Obama administration to build friendlier relations with Russia but cautioned that attempts to “reset” the relationship with Putin will confront the reality that anti-Americanism remains one of his staple policies. 
 
Obama can use the upcoming Moscow summit to help Russia’s democracy movement by taking the following steps:
  • Bolster Medvedev’s political position by acknowledging the president’s importance in his opening remarks at the summit and not meet with Prime Minister Putin.
     
  • Meet with Russian opposition leaders.
     
  • Highlight the importance of democratic values in his speech.
     
  • Acknowledge and discuss frankly the problems between the U.S. and Russia.
Future of Democracy in Russia
Though true democracy is a long way off for Russia, Nemtsov recommended several short-term steps to strengthen Russia’s democratic movement. Medvedev should assert his authority further and begin to act as a true president instead of deferring to Putin; amnesty should be granted for Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon regarded by many as a political prisoner; and the government should ease restrictions on the media.  Nemtsov also underscored his understanding that building Russian democracy in the first instance is a task for Russians.