An update on the Russian-US commission to be chaired by Surkov and McFall.

The presidential administration is drawing concept of the working group Civil Society set up within the framework of the Russian-US commission. The new structure was established on orders from presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama during the US President’s visit to Moscow in early July.

The structure includes 13 subcommissions. The working group for interaction between civil societies is to be headed by Senior Assistant Director of the Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov and National Security Council Director of Russian Affairs Michael McFall. It is necessary to add that the Kremlin’s choice of Surkov for the commission stirred the Russian human rights community. Some human rights activists even complained to the US President, objecting to be supervised by a senior official of the Presidential Administration. Validity of these objections was and remains questionable because the American part of the joint structure will be headed by a White House official too.

While composition of the working group remains unclear at this time, it is known that it will probably comprise members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and specialists from the leading official centers like the Institute of Modern Development and Institute of Social Planning. The first meeting of the structure will apparently take place in late October or early November.

Sources close to the Presidential Administration said that the Kremlin expected the new bilateral structure to advance the Russian-US humanitarian cooperation. “The United States has accumulated colossal experience in development and advancement of civil society. It has mechanisms… In other words, the United States could teach us a thing or two. We want representatives of our non-governmental organizations meeting with their American counterparts and learning from them, say, organization of charity events and activities,” a source said. Moscow will welcome establishment of direct contacts between American states and Federation subjects. It suggests cooperation in youth exchange programs, protection of juveniles and the handicapped, voluntary activities, social aid, immigration, environment protection, war on corruption, and relations between the state and civil society.

Another source announced that the Kremlin would try to make the structure as apolitical as possible. “Contacts between political organizations, speculations over the state of affairs with human rights and non-governmental organizations themselves in Russia, interference with our domestic policy… it will be a blind alley for the Civil Society group. We need practical actions,” he explained.

Igor Yurgens of the Institute of Modern Development in the meantime surmised that it would be nice to suggest an expansion of list of items on the agenda right at the first meeting of the working group. “Nothing wrong with suggesting cooperation between academic circles, students, human rights communities, and so on,” Yurgens said. “As far as the human rights community is concerned, I understand that the powers-that-be are apprehensive. That’s the lingering post-Orange Revolution syndrome. I believe, however, that we are past it. Besides, the so called color revolutions are not organized by structures such as this.”

Yevgeny Gontmakher, Assistant Director of the Institute of Global Economics and International Relations, pointed out that concentration on social matters and special efforts to avoid political aspects spelled failure of the whole project. “Civil society in the United States wields colossal clout with politics. In Russia, however, civil society is weak and is regarded as such. When he was meeting with non-governmental organizations in Moscow, Obama said that he regularly met and consulted with representatives of civil society. Actually, he even said he often made decisions on the basis of these consultations. The way I see it, our president is like that too,” Gontmakher said. The expert said that non-governmental organizations of the two countries should study national legislations pertaining civil society and suggest their amendments (if necessary) to Medvedev and Obama. According to Gontmakher, non-governmental organizations should also try and involve the presidents in the discourse over human rights violations in Russia and the United States.