A U.S.-Russian government commission on civil society distanced itself from discussing human rights issues at its first meeting, focusing instead on corruption and the adoption of Russian children.
“I think that kind of exchange is useful for breaking down stereotypes and for advancing American national interests and I hope in the long run Russian national interests as well,” Michael McFaul, director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the U.S. National Security Council, said on Radio Liberty on Thursday.
McFaul represents the U.S. side on the commission, which met in Washington for the first time Wednesday. The Russian side is represented by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration.
Human rights groups have asked U.S. and Russian leaders to remove Surkov from the commission. Surkov is seen as the Kremlin's strategist behind Russia's “managed democracy.”
The commission agreed Wednesday to ask Transparency International to monitor corruption in Russia and in the United States with the help of local nongovernmental organizations, said Ella Pamfilova, head of the presidential council on civil society and human rights.
Pamfilova said Russian NGOs would help Transparency International to collect information about local corruption and to establish “a universal method to measure corruption,” RIA-Novosti reported.
Transparency International, which monitors corruption around the world, has consistently ranked Russia among the most corrupt countries in its annual Corruption Perception Index. Bribery in Russia is estimated to cost $300 billion a year, almost a fifth of the country's gross domestic product in 2008.
The commission also discussed the situation with the adoption of Russian children by U.S. parents, new children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said. He said both countries have useful experience in adoptions and that NGOs in both countries could help the governments monitor the adoption process.
Adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents have all but stalled after a series of high-profile abuse cases in which the adopted children died.