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Public Statements

United States Relationship with Russia

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. DREIER. Mr. Speaker, last month, The Economist exhorted Western Leaders to more openly and consistently criticize Russia for its sham democracy, its brutal treatment of human rights activists and political dissidents, and its utter disregard for the rule of law. It was a challenge that should be taken seriously.

* Our approach to Russia has been characterized, paradoxically, by a failure to be both sufficiently pragmatic and sufficiently idealistic at the same time.

* Russia is a key international player with whom we must engage. That's undeniable. It is a permanent member of the Security Council. It is a key actor in any united international effort to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions. It exerts great influence in regions, such as Central Asia, with implications for our struggle against violent extremism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Keeping our engagement with Russia as constructive and effective as possible is essential to pursuing our vital national security interests.

* But this reality cannot preclude our commitment to promote democracy around the globe and condemn those who brutally suppress it. We must stand up for human rights and the rule of law, even when--especially when--they are undermined by major international players. We cannot remain silent when journalists and activists are killed or savagely beaten with impunity, while political prisoners face years of jail time. The new guilty verdict imposed on Mikhail Khodorkovsky late last year makes it appear that the only crime that's actually punishable in the Russian Federation is opposition to Putin.

* Days after the verdict was handed flown, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was arrested for participating in a peaceful rally. He had committed the grave offense of expressing support for the protection of constitutional rights and condemning the sham Khodorkovsky verdict.

* Hostility to the rule of law extends beyond Russia's own borders, as we saw in the August 2008 invasion of our democratic ally Georgia. Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity remains under threat today.

* In our relationship with Moscow, we must learn to balance the twin imperatives of effective engagement and criticism of gross miscarriages of justice. This will only become more essential in the context of the coming debate on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

* Russia has moved closer than ever to acceding to the WTO. We are likely to face this prospect in the coming year and the resulting vote on whether to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations. We will need to have a full and robust debate on this issue. We will need to ensure that PNTR is not granted until we have confirmed that Russia has fulfilled the basic obligations that WTO membership demands.

* If those obligations are met, my view is that WTO accession would be a very positive step forward. Bringing Russia into a rules-based trading system would bind Moscow to the rule of law. It would create consequences and enforcement mechanisms for failure to live by its commitments. WTO membership is by no means a panacea, particularly for systems as deeply flawed as Russia's. But it would be a significant step in the right direction.

* Not only would it impose the rule of law in Russia's trading relationships. It would demonstrate that even Moscow recognizes the value of international rules of fairness. This should serve as a reminder that their presumed indifference to our criticism is no excuse for failing to voice that criticism. We need to engage with Russia, but Russia also needs to engage to with us. We cannot shy away from taking a public stand against increasingly brutal repression at the hands of those with whom we have important negotiations.

* Neither can we lose sight of the fact that supporting the rule of law is not just about promoting American ideals. One of the most important lessons of the last decade it that democracy strengthening is as firmly grounded in realpolitik as it is steeped in lofty, high-minded ideals. If our moral clarity helps to strengthen democracy advocates in Russia, we will further our strategic goals in the long run. A less corrupt, less autocratic regime in Moscow will result in a better international partner.

* As Vladimir Kara Murza has written in World Affairs, defending the rule of law is not just our right but our duty. Last week Vladimir wrote that statutes of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to which both the U.S. and Russia are party, make this clear. The statutes state ``issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of the international order'' and ``commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States.''

* As a member of key international bodies and an aspirant to the WTO, Russia has subjected itself to international norms. The U.S. and its Western allies must take seriously the responsibility to hold Russia accountable for its commitments and its actions.

* The Russian people have a long and tremendous history. Their government has very tragically tried to return this great people to a dark chapter of that history. But if we refuse to stay silent in the face of egregious human rights violations while constructively engaging in key negotiations, I believe we can effectively encourage positive change in Russia.

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