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Russia moves towards “Sovereign Openness”

Ivan Pavlov |

 The Freedom of Information Foundation and our colleagues from Russian civil society are deeply concerned by the latest declarations by federal officials regarding Russia’s position on discontinuing its present relationship with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which Russia was poised to join in 2013.

According to recent official statements, Russia has paused the process of joining OGP. There are now serious doubts that Russia will continue its relationship with OGP. The Russian Federation has stated that it disagrees with the terms of OGP membership, and is preparing proposals to increase the range of OGP activities to not only information exchange but also more “practical applications” such as enhancing attractiveness for foreign investment. Russia’s pragmatic desire for immediate applicable results of OGP is not realistic, nor is the presumption of economic benefits as a result of membership in OGP. Participation in OGP allows countries to create an attractive environment for investors through implementing transparency measures, but OGP itself is not a vehicle for attracting investors.

Participating in OGP requires close cooperation and dialog between government and civil society. This partnership was a core piece of Russia’s draft National Plan for the OGP, which was presented in December 2012 at the international Open Governance Conference in Moscow. At that time, the prospect of Russian participation in the OGP was presented as a done deal by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The latest decision to change course with respect to OGP was made unilaterally by top Russian authorities without any dialog with civil society.

Despite this very unfortunate turn of events, Russia’s withdrawal from OGP does not yet spell disaster for governmental openness. Russia still has its own national agenda for governmental openness that is guaranteed by federal and regional legislation. The government has also established the post of Minister for Open Government. We still have grounds for our activities, but if these grounds disappear, that will be a tragic end to many years of hard work and investment in openness and transparency. Russia’s about face on the Open Government Partnership appears unsportsmanlike. It seems that the country has refused to participate in an esteemed international forum where it could demonstrate its formidable strengths related to openness and transparency because it fears to show its weaknesses. This type of behavior and the desire to always appear without weaknesses isolates our country and limits our possibility for growth and development by learning from and engaging with other countries.

Photo credit: “Catedral de San Basilio” by Pedro J Pacheco via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/23610567@N05/2369332045/