President Obama Joins the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Summit
CSIS, together with the Eurasia Foundation and the New Eurasia Foundation, hosted a meeting in Moscow during the Obama-Medvedev summit. The meeting brought together approximately 130 American and Russian civil society leaders for two days of discussion. President Obama attended the last session of the meeting, urging a shift in how the United States engages Russian civil society. "We not only need a 'reset' button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies — more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges. For history teaches us that real progress — whether it's economic or social or political — doesn't come from the top-down, it typically comes from the bottom-up," President Obama said. (see full remarks). He also received the recommendations that came from the six lines of work: press and new media, human rights and the rule of law, community development, public health, environment, and youth and education.
President Obama delivered a speech in which he noted his own experience working toward improving communities from the bottom up. He argued that government works better when leaders meet with their critics, and acknowledged there were Americans in the audience with whom he has met that expressed their frustration with the slow pace in closing Guantanamo. He also acknowldged the recommendations of the human rights working group that reminded him that human rights defenders all over the world are watching the language and actions of his administration.
Also in the audience were representatives of the Russian government and press.
Previous administrations have met with human rights leaders when visiting Russia, but this was the first time a visiting U.S. president had come to a meeting organized by members of U.S. and Russian civil society. The conveners expressed hope that this was a first small step toward a more robust relationship between nongovernment sectors.