Congressman Chris Smith had a candid, firm and respectful exchange with Russian lawmakers on Saturday in Berlin wherein he confronted his counterparts, led by Pyotr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the Russian legislature, on an array of human rights violations and geopolitical issues, he told MMM in an phone interview following the meeting which the 27th Annual Session of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Parliamentary Assembly.
Smith heads the 13 member U.S. delegation to OSCE-PA. Tolstoy leads the Russian delegation.
The congressman, who represents most of Monmouth County and portions of Ocean and Mercer Counties, said he was pleased that he was able to cover the full range of topics he intended, including Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, election interference, fake news, visas, adoption, trafficking, cyber attacks, terrorism, social media, and the shooting death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Smith said that Russian has gone backward on human rights and human trafficking since the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when the nations cooperated, particularly in the area of combating the trafficking of Russian women. The congressman challenged the Russians to return to that spirit of cooperation.
“Russian Federation is open to dialogue that is open and candid, just like in the 1980/90s,” Tolstoy said, according to a press release from Smith’s office received following the interview. Tolstoy highlighted the fact that a direct communication channel is needed between the two legislative bodies. Smith agreed and recalled past meetings he attended in Moscow including during the time of perestroika before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Smith said he pressed the Russians “for peace in Syria, unfettered safe access for humanitarian aid workers and accountability—prosecution of those who have committed war crimes.”
On Ukraine, Smith said the “unlawful annexation of Crimea coupled with Russian military expansion into other parts of Ukraine had led to enormous suffering and death. A durable cease-fire—agreed in the Minsk Agreement—and deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to the region will save lives.”
Smith as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative for Trafficking Issues raised the issue of sex trafficking in Russia—which received a Tier 3 rating—the lowest grade—in the latest U.S. annual Trafficking in Persons Report—commenting that “Russian women are suffering across the globe, including in the U.S.,” and that the U.S. Congress “wants to work with you in a transparent way to help Russian women”. Smith authored the first resolution on combating human trafficking passed by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1999 and in 2000 wrote America’s landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
The successful meeting concluded with the two leaders of the delegations agreeing on the importance of dialogue. Smith stated “This was a fruitful conversation and dialogue” and Tolstoy concurred, “We’re convinced that democracy is dialogue and trust is the result of this dialogue despite the fake news and clichés, let’s keep moving forward.”
Following the meeting with the Russian delegation on Saturday, Smith set up a bilateral meeting with the seven member Ukraine delegation that was in attendance at the OSCE-PA.
The Ukrainians, led by Serhiy Vysotskyi, took the opportunity to correct Russian misrepresentation of the situation in eastern Ukraine.