US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Saturday with beleaguered Russian human-rights activists to encourage them to build institutions of democracy to combat arbitrary state power amid increasing pressure from the Kremlin.
With concerns rising about the centralization of power and democratic backsliding in Russia ahead of legislative and presidential elections in December and March, Rice sought opinions and assessments of the current situation from eight prominent rights leaders.
"I just want to have an opportunity to hear from you," she told the group at Spaso House, the residence of the US ambassador in Moscow. "This is an extremely important time in Russia's development."
Before going in to a closed-door meeting with the leaders, Rice said she hoped their efforts would be successful in promoting universal values of "the rights of individuals to liberty and freedom, the right to worship as you please, and the right to assembly, the right to not have to deal with the arbitrary power of the state."