On Monday, President Obama heads to Moscow for two days of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He also plans to meet with Russian opposition leaders and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and deliver what White House officials are billing as his third major foreign policy address–after his April arms control speech in Prague and his address in Cairo to the Muslim World. And today the White House confirmed that Obama will give an interview to Russia’s leading opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
This is very good news.
In April, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave his very first print interview to Novaya and its courageous editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov. The view inside Russia at the time was that Medvedev’s interview gave the paper protection at a time when the economic and human rights situation in Russia is, at best, unstable.
Indeed, the Kremlin’s tightening grip on the media, especially national and local television, and authorities’ harassment of opposition parties, has led Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky to draw a parallel between Putin’s Russia and Soviet Russia. “Russia stands on the threshold of the restoration of Soviet-style single-party rule.”
President Obama’s interview to Novaya signals support for the paper and for the importance of independent media in Russia.
As someone who’s been close to Novaya over the years, I’m pleased to learn that “Dima” Muratov and his colleagues’s tenacious efforts to get an interview with Obama were rewarded. When my husband Stephen Cohen and I were in Moscow in March, we spent considerable time talking to Muratov about such a possibility–and the substance of the interview.
For those who want to know more about this remarkable paper and its editor, it is worth reading Muratov’s powerful remarks when he was in New York in November 2007 to receive the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. I had the honor and personal pleasure of presenting the award to him. My husband Steve and I first met Muratov–a tenacious and brave editor– in 1993. He and a few other colleagues had gathered in the basement cafeteria of Moscow News–then a bold paper of the glasnost era–to plan the launch of Novaya Gazeta. Survival of a different kind was on their minds at that time; they were beginning the paper with two computers, one printer, two rooms and no money for salaries!