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U.S. Secretary Of State Meets Russian Rights Activists

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry upon his arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport on May 7.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has met with leading Russian human rights activists amid concerns about a crackdown by Russian authorities on civil society groups.

The meeting took place on May 8 in the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.

Among the activists was veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as members of other leading Russian rights groups.

Kerry told the activists at the start of the meeting that "everybody has great respect for your efforts."

Speaking after the meeting, prominent rights activist Lev Ponomaryov had strong things to say about the current political developments in Russia.

"We are not only talking about the elimination of independent human rights and other movements -- independent NGOs. We are saying that an unconstitutional coup is taking place in Russia," Ponomaryov said.

"These are pretty serious words and serious accusations."

Kerry told the activists at the start of the meeting that "everybody has great respect for your efforts."

In recent weeks, Russian authorities have been questioning nongovernmental organizations and demanding documents in connection with a controversial new law requiring activist groups to declare themselves "foreign agents" if their funding comes from abroad.

Kerry is on his first visit to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state.

On May 7 he met President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks focusing on the conflict in Syria and joint counterterrorism efforts.

READ MORE: Raids On NGOs Could Threaten Ordinary Russians

Kerry told reporters he had also discussed the crackdown on NGOs and a controversial law banning U.S. nationals from adopting Russian children.

Russia banned U.S. nationals from adopting Russian children after the United States passed legislation imposing sanctions on Russian officials involved in the death of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other alleged human rights abuses.

The so-called Magnitsky Act is among issues that recently raised tensions between Moscow and Washington.

Alekseyeva said neither the Magnitsky law nor the "Bolotnaya Case" were discussed at the May 8 meeting with Kerry.

The "Bolotnaya Case" refers to the crackdown on the opposition following clashes between protesters against Putin's return to power and police on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in May 2012.

Regarding the meeting with Kerry, Ponomaryov suggested that -- unlike in Soviet times -- Washington was turning a blind eye to a crackdown on freedoms in Russia. He was very critical of what he heard at the U.S. ambassador's residence on May 8.

"Once again, [the U.S. delegation used] smooth language, such as 'We are sympathizing with you.' 'Well done,' 'You are at the forefront of the fight for democracy,' and 'We are not going to abandon you.' But I have to say that the language was very smooth, indeed," he said.

"So, of course, these are our domestic problems."

Kerry said on May 7 that Russia and the United States "should keep our eye on our strategic interests."

With reporting by AFP and Interfax
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