The Obama administration said Friday it was pulling out of a civil society dialogue with Russia to protest the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent and new laws against nongovernmental organizations. It also harshly criticized Russia's parliament for advancing new legislation against "homosexual propaganda."
The civil society talks were among several initiated by President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medevdev to reset strained U.S.-Russian relations. But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that in light of Russia's civil society restrictions, the talks were no longer useful or appropriate. A Russian law last summer required any such organizations receiving funding from abroad and engaging in political activity to register as "foreign agents."
"The working group was not working," Nuland told reporters. "The new restrictions that the government of Russia was placing on civil society in recent months were increasingly calling into question whether maintaining this government-to-government mechanism was either useful or appropriate. And it was not advancing the cause of civil society in Russia."
Nuland also criticized Russia's Duma, the lower of house of parliament, for voting 388-1-1 on Friday to prohibit gay events in Russia. The bill also prevents dissemination of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors, with infractions punishable by fines of up to $16,000. After two more readings, it goes to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his signature.
"Nobody should be discriminated against for who they love," Nuland said.
Despite Obama's effort to reset ties with Russia, human rights and democracy disagreements continue to cause tensions between Washington and Moscow. The old Cold War foes are also at odds over Syria and missile defense.
With the working group ended, Nuland said the U.S. would steer its outreach directly to Russian advocacy groups while bringing up the Kremlin's respect for democracy in every meeting from the president on down.
Oleg Zykov, a Russian member of the civil society working group, said he attended its first session and had the feeling that it was mostly intended to showcase U.S.-Russian dialogue rather than do any real work.
"It was all very formal and short on substance," Zykov told The Associated Press.
Associated Press Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.