Following his cancellation of a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama may infuriate the Kremlin further by meeting Russian human rights activists, including LGBT rights groups, during his upcoming trip to St. Petersburg for the G20 summit.
Four Russian non-governmental organizations told BuzzFeed Monday they had been invited to the meeting, scheduled for this Thursday at St. Petersburg’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The groups include veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, legal aid NGO director Pavel Chikov, and Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization. Another local LGBT group, the LGBT Network, is believed to be attending, though director Igor Kochetkov declined to comment to BuzzFeed, saying that he had been “asked not to say anything.”
Election monitoring group Golos is also believed to have been invited, though BuzzFeed could not reach its director or deputy director to confirm. Russia’s justice ministry forced Golos, which used to receive funding from USAID, to disband this summer under a law on “foreign agents” that many believed was created specifically to target the group.
Obama’s trip to Russia for a summit of the Group of 20 industrialized nations comes amid a deep rift between the U.S. and Russia, not least over the countries’ competing stances on Syria. Obama was due to hold a one-on-one meeting with Putin in Moscow before heading to the summit, but abruptly called that off last month in the wake of deteriorating relations and Russia’s sheltering of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Putin has repeatedly accused members of Russia’s civil society as being in the pay of the U.S. State Department.
Thursday’s meeting is not unique or unprecedented. Obama met with civil society and opposition activists during his last visit to Russia in 2009. George W. Bush met with NGOs during the G8 summit in 2006.
It is believed to be the first time Obama has met with members of the Russian LGBT community. Asked about Russia’s anti-LGBT law in August, Obama told Jay Leno that he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
A U.S. Embassy representative did not return several requests for comment.