President Bush, who as a candidate strongly criticized the Putin administration for repression in Chechnya and putting pressure on Russia’s beleaguered nonstate state media, did raise the issues of human rights and democracy during his Moscow visit. But he did it only sotto voce–during a May 24 meeting at Spaso House, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Moscow, with a group of politicians, religious leaders and human rights advocates, some of whom fit into the “opposition” category. During a twenty-minute speech to the community leaders, Bush refrained from overtly criticizing 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 added that the U.S. counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan should serve as an example to Russia in carrying out its military campaign in Chechnya. “The experience in Afghanistan has taught us all that there’s lessons to be learned about how to protect one’s homeland and, at the same time, be respectful on the battlefield, and that lesson applies to Chechnya,” Bush said. “The war on terror can be won and, at the same time, we have proven it’s possible to respect the rights of the people in the territories, to respect the rights of the minorities.” According to the human rights group Memorial, since July 2000, some 2,000 people detained by Russian forces in Chechnya have disappeared without a trace and more than 1,000 of the republic’s inhabitants have been killed during “zachistki” (anti-guerrilla sweeps) carried out by Russian forces.