Remarks at the U.S.-Russia "Civil Society to Civil Society" Summit
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to thank you and everyone who has really seen this vision and is working to realize it. I love the whiteboards on both ends with what looks to be a very comprehensive and complex agenda. And I am very pleased to be here to thank you and to celebrate the work that you and colleagues do every single day to create and sustain strong civil societies in Russia and the United States.
We also had a very important summit today between Presidents Medvedev and Obama. Mike McFaul from the National Security Council is here. And Mike, as you know, is a very longtime supporter of a vibrant civil society in Russia. And, as President Obama said when he met with many of you in Moscow last summer, we recognize the critical nature of civil society to a vibrant democracy, and we want to create those relationships between our two countries and between civil society in each country that can assist in answering questions and solving problems.
Some quick examples that I just saw with the exhibits here this afternoon – we need creative, committed, courageous organizations like you and yours to find innovative solutions, to expose corruption, to give voice to the voiceless, to hold governments accountable to their citizens, to keep people informed and engaged on the issues that matter most to them.
As part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission that the two presidents established that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I are coordinating, we launched a Working Group on Civil Society. And I was privileged to meet with civil society leaders. I don’t know if anybody – was anybody here at the meeting that I had at Spaso House last – yeah, yeah, good – last October? And I was extraordinarily impressed and moved by the stories and the level of commitment and connection.
And we want to keep building on these relationships. We want to share best practices. We want to find new avenues for collaboration. We want to disseminate new technologies. We want to expand and strengthen your work. For example, following the U.S.-Russian Innovation Dialogue last February, Russian and American NGOs signed an MOU to promote the Text4Baby model, which uses mobile service technology to provide health information to pregnant women and new mothers. And I think we saw maybe a reference to that up on the board there.
And when I saw some of the creative ways that you can use a technology to educate people about elections, to fight child exploitation, to link groups together, to promote human rights, expand access to libraries and vital health services, I was very encouraged. Because we are going to continue to focus on this area and to empower people with the tools that they need to chart their own lives and to take stands wherever necessary.
We have a dedicated group inside the State Department focused on how to use technology in the 21st century. We call it 21st Century Statecraft. I saw Jared Cohen when I came in. I don’t know if Alec Ross is here or not. But who else is – anybody else here from your team, Jared? We have a great team of really dedicated young people – primarily young people – who care deeply about connecting people up. And I’m very proud of the work they’re doing. They have been everywhere from Mexico to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Syria to Russia, and every place in between. And we want to be a facilitator to help empower you in this area.
In one of my early discussions with Minister Lavrov, he said, well, you know, we don’t like it when you have so many NGOs coming to Russia. And I said, well, send Russian NGOs to the United States. (Laughter.) We’ll be happy to have them. And I really mean that. I think the more exchange and the more – (applause) – cross-fertilization the better.
I am one who believes that despite different historical experiences, different cultural backgrounds, there is so much that connects the United States and Russia. I think that President Medvedev saw that firsthand in Silicon Valley over the last 36 or so hours. And I think he understands the necessity of modernizing not just the Russian economy, but the Russian political system as well. And I was very excited to hear reports from Mike and others about how well-received the president was at Stanford and some of the other stops he made, and to meet with some of the many thousands of Russians who live in Silicon Valley. And I think it’s great that Russia is looking to try to create that kind of center for technology and growth right outside Moscow, and we want to help because we think that it’s in everyone’s interest do so.
But there is another element to our agenda. By shining a spotlight on the work of civil society groups like yours, we think we can help protect activists whose work can make them a target of abuse and violence. In particular, as I said last year, the United States remains deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Russia. Among others, we remember the murdered American journalist Paul Klebnikov; the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention last year. We continue to urge that justice be delivered in these cases. We’re committed to working with you to find ways to reduce threats and protect the lives of activists.
So there’s a lot that we have done in this past year, and there’s more still to do in the so-called “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Our countries still have and will always have differences. There are not two countries that will agree on everything. There are not two people who will agree on everything. But we are speaking very openly, honestly and frankly about our areas of disagreement, and we’re looking to narrow those and then try to make progress across the board.
At a summit like the one just concluded between our presidents, it’s not only bringing presidents together. We think it is also symbolically bringing communities together. And that’s what you’re doing in real time here because you’re helping to intertwine Americans and Russians. Under this bilateral commission that we have set up, we’ve had more than a hundred meetings. There is a very long report that’s going up on State.gov of the report of the work of the bilateral commission. I invite all of you to look at it. We’ve really done some extraordinary things together, and there’s a lot more that lies ahead.
So I want to thank you. Thank you for your energy, your creativity, your passion, your commitment to building a better life for yourselves, your families, and for your fellow citizens. And I really urge you to continue to take on the issues that have such a big impact on people’s lives. And as you do that, we want you to know that you not only will have the support of the United States Government, but you’ll have the support of organizations like IREX. You’ll have the support of other NGOs, of academics, of the American private sector, but most significantly, the American people.
We will continue to seek ways to support and expand your work on behalf of the Russian people. And we are very excited and very hopeful about what we can do together. I think that the potential is just enormous, and we cannot grow weary making progress together. It sometimes seems for those of you who are on the front lines of any movement for change, that it is just excruciatingly slow and disappointing and frustrating. But if you look at the great sweep of history, the changes that have occurred – not just in Russia, but in the world, literally, in the last two, three decades – have been breathtaking.
So I see it from the position of how much has already happened, and then I think about how much energy we have behind what we need to be doing now and in the future. And I really hope that each and every one of you realizes that you’re performing a great service – an act of true patriotism on behalf of not only your country, but on behalf of a better life that will provide a stronger foundation for a positive, constructive relationship between the United States and Russia.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)