[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Russian human rights activists at the US ambassador's residence in Moscow Saturday to address growing concerns regarding freedom of speech, independence of the judiciary and conditions in the Caucasus region. Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, [advocacy website] said that the discussions heavily focused on what he called "authoritarianism". In comments to reporters afterwards, Rice ventured that key Russian institutions have become too weak to balance the growing power of Russian President Vladimir Putin:
I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma [the Russian lower house of parliament].Rice's comments Saturday at Spaso House [official website] came a day after Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a cold welcome [Los Angeles Times report] from Putin in the midst of Russian concern over US proposals for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Russian-US relations have been strained of late. Russia distrusts what it sees as overreaching US foreign policy, and the US is wary of what it regards as Russia's deteriorating human rights record [JURIST reports]. AP has more and provides additional coverage.