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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Russia and the United States should do more to strengthen mutual economic ties because the “reset” in relations cannot go on indefinitely.
In a wide-ranging interview with the “Kommersant” daily published on October 3, Lavrov said a reset cannot last forever, as “otherwise it would not be a reset but a program failure.”
He suggested that instead, Moscow and Washington should think about how to “update the software.”
U.S. President Barack Obama called for the reset in relations before taking office in 2008, but relations have been strained by differences over issues such as missile defense, human rights, and the conflict in Syria.
Russian-U.S. relations were most recently strained by Moscow’s decision to halt the activities of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Washington has called the move “regrettable” and rejected Russian allegations that USAID was meddling in Russian politics.
Lavrov said USAID was involved through its grants in some “dubious” projects, in particular in the North Caucasus.
Russian foreign-policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal “Russia In Global Affairs,” tells RFE/RL that Moscow views any rights activities financed from abroad in the region “automatically as hostile,” which he says is because of the volatility of the North Caucasus.
“What is referred to here is the support of various rights organizations that carry out investigations or defend the rights of people who are being persecuted by either federal or local authorities – in short, rights organizations that criticize the policies of Russia or of regional authorities in the North Caucasus,” Lukyanov says.
“Since Moscow considers this region highly explosive, any human rights activity financed from abroad is automatically viewed as hostile.”
Lavrov also warned against “mixing trade with politics” by adopting the so-called Magnitsky bill currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress.
Lukyanov says there is no doubt the bill will be adopted and that Lavrov was simply “stating the obvious.”
“It will definitely be adopted,” Lukyanov said. “There is a consistent majority in Congress that considers it necessary to adopt it, for various reasons.”
The bill, named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention amid torture allegations three years ago, would link trade benefits to Russia with sanctions against Russian officials responsible for human rights violations.
Lavrov also accused Western media of distorting Russia’s image. He dismissed allegations that the jailing of three members of the Pussy Riot punk band was politically motivated and part of a crackdown on the opposition as a “propaganda campaign.”
The three women were sentenced to two years in prison in August for performing a song against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Orthodox cathedral.
Lavrov said Western powers, by supporting insurgents in the Middle East, had “sown winds to reap a storm.”
He said backing calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down to end the conflict in Syria would be “instigating continuing the fratricidal war” at the cost of thousands of lives.