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The BPCís agenda serves key U.S. interests but has also been endorsed by the Russian side at the highest levels. Priorities include promoting transparency in public contracting to expose corruption; access to justice for vulnerable members of society, especially children and labor migrants; increasing access to information, including freedom of the press and Internet; and supporting job-creating entrepreneurship and innovation through better intellectual property protections.
The BPC is well-regarded in Moscow and Washington, and supporting it will help send the message that Congress does not seek to derail U.S.-Russia cooperation but rather to strengthen its foundations. Moreover, Congressional support will help this important tool endure into the future rather than being tossed out by each new administration as has been the pattern for bilateral commissions in the past.
Successful relations with Russia have also traditionally included direct involvement by Congress. The current House Russia Caucus and the Open World Leadership Center are important U.S. initiatives, but a fully bilateral, bipartisan and bicameral track between U.S. and Russian lawmakers is also needed. Creating a Congress-Duma track parallel to the BPC would restore a valuable line of communication with Russian lawmakers who are likely to become more important if the Russian public continues to challenge Putinís one-man rule.
Congress already conducts oversight of U.S. foreign operations, but a direct Congress-Duma track can help both sides understand the intentions and interests of lawmakers in supporting assistance programs and other kinds of cooperation.
Combined with Congressional support for the BPC, restoration of a Congress-Duma track can also send a clear message to Moscow that we value recent improvements in our relations but that to go further, progress is essential on the issues of human rights and the rule of law about which Americans care deeply.
Matthew Rojansky is deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.