The issues of human rights and rule of law were low on the Bush-Putin summit agenda. While in Moscow, the U.S. president did meet with a group of politicians, religious leaders and human rights advocates, some of whom have criticized the Russian president for what they see as his antidemocratic policies and actions, including abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya and the continuing pressure on Russia’s beleaguered nonstate media. In a twenty-minute speech to the community leaders, Bush refrained from an overt criticism of Putin, instead praising Russia’s progress “on the road to democracy” and stressing the importance of rule of law, human rights and independent media. Bush later visited a synagogue in St. Petersburg, where he met with one of Russia’s two chief rabbis and declared himself “impressed” by what he heard about religious freedom in Russia.
While state-sponsored anti-Semitism ceased with the fall of the Soviet Union and things have undoubtedly improved for Russian Jews overall, several incidents this week showed that problems at the grassroots level remain. A woman in Moscow’s suburbs was blinded in one eye when she tried to pull down an improvised anti-Semitic road sign (it read “Death to Yids”) that had been booby-trapped with explosives. Just two days after this incident, the son of the Voronezh synagogue’s rabbi, an American citizen, suffered a broken nose when he was beaten by skinheads while on his way to attend morning services at a synagogue in central Moscow. These incidents came on the heels of ongoing skinhead violence in Moscow and other Russian cities and amid debate over an anti-extremism bill likely to be passed by the State Duma sometime in the next several months.