World Politics

Russia 'concerned' for human rights as it watches U.S. protests, Kremlin says

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Key Points
  • Russia says it is concerned for the respect of human rights during U.S. protests.
  • Its own record on human rights has repeatedly come under scrutiny.
  • Russia was accused of promoting unrest, provoking outrage in Moscow.
NYPD Officers spray mace into the crowd of protesters gathered at Barclays Center to protest the recent killing of George Floyd on May 29, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Demonstrations are being held across the US after Floyd died in police custody on May 25th.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Russia has said that protests and civil unrest in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd are a "domestic issue," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman told CNBC, although it has concerns for any abuses of human rights there, and anywhere else in the world.

"We consider it to be a domestic affair of the United States and we don't want to interfere," Dmitry Peskov, a top Russian official and President Putin's spokesman, told CNBC on Tuesday. 

"At the same time we are concerned about respect for human rights in every corner of the world and that's applicable for the United States as well," he said, adding that the febrile mood in the U.S. had appeared to contribute to "Russophobia," with some high-profile commentators (most notably by President Obama's former national security adviser, Susan Rice) insinuating that Russia had helped to stoke unrest in the U.S.

Russian officials were outraged at the accusations that Russia might be responsible for the social unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in late May and whose death sparked mass protests across America against racism and police brutality.

"When we first saw the outbreaks of those riots in the U.S. the first thing we heard is one of the voices saying 'well, probably, Russia is staying behind those riots'. It's very hard for us to understand these comments and the reason for them," Peskov said. 

"What is going on in the States with these riots and protests is America's domestic affair. We hate it when someone is trying to interfere in our domestic affairs and we never do it ourselves," he added, saying Russia's "concern about human rights, our concern about respect for human rights in every country in the world is quite natural."

Tables turned?

Russia's own record on human rights record has come under repeated scrutiny and criticism for years, amid crackdowns of opposition politicians and activists, gender-based violence and deaths in police custody, among other abuses, according to human rights associations. Last week, the Kremlin appeared to take the opportunity to accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy, telling it to improve its approach to human rights and to "thoroughly investigate the murder of George Floyd."

Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement on May 29 that the U.S. "has certainly accumulated systemic human rights problems: race, ethnic and religious discrimination, police brutality, bias of justice, crowded prisons and uncontrolled use of firearms and self-defense weapons by individuals, to name a few."

"We are urging the U.S. authorities to take effective measures to improve the current state of affairs, resume good-faith efforts to honor international commitments and tailor national legislation to the UN basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement."

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova caused a stir by going one step further, reportedly telling the U.S. that "it's time for the U.S. to drop the mentor's tone and look in the mirror."

President Trump's administration has been accused of a heavy-handed response to the demonstrations, threatening to deploy the military at one point, and when riot police and military police used tear gas to disperse protesters outside the White House.

A controversial response to the protests, and somewhat incoherent approach to the coronavirus crisis, have damaged Trump's approval ratings and lent a boost to his Democrat rival, Joe Biden. Asked on Russia's perception of voter polls, and if the Kremlin was preparing for a possible change of president, Peskov said Russia's interest was purely on improving U.S.-Russia relations, whoever was in charge.

"It's the business of the American people to think about what was done right by their politicians, and what was done wrong and who's better and worse," Peskov said.

"Our business is to wish for someone who is objectively heading for improving our bilateral relations is ruling America. So we would prefer someone, we would prefer that America, and Washington, is interested in getting our bilateral relations to better levels, for the sake of our two peoples and for the sake of global stability and security."