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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to speak about Russia, and to review--particularly, in light of the recent election in Russia and the relationship we have--the state of what this administration has trumpeted as a so-called reset of U.S.-Russia relations, especially in light of the flawed Duma election that occurred this weekend, and in light of my strong belief that the growing demand for dignity and uncorrupt governance that has defined the Arab world this year may impact Russia as well.
Let me once again make clear that I am not opposed to U.S. engagement with Russia. I am not opposed to working consistently in good faith with Russia to find more ways to improve our relationship. To the contrary, we must continue to actively seek ways to cooperate with Russia in mutually beneficial ways. It is in our national interest to do so. And whatever can be said about the administration's policy toward Russia, no one can accuse them of a lack of sincerity and diligence in trying to increase cooperation with Russia.

I would simply ask, What has been accomplished? What has been the result of the administration's good-faith desire for a so-called reset of relations with Russia? The answer, I am afraid, is precious little. Yes, there have been some areas of progress, but even those minor steps may now be getting rolled back.

There has been a lot of news recently pertaining to our relationship with Russia and Russia's future development, which my colleagues may have missed. It is very important to spend some time today and review these new developments.

Let's start with the issue of missile defense.

My colleagues will remember the debate we had here last year over the ratification of the New START treaty. In that debate, we spent a lot of time discussing the Russian threat to withdraw from the treaty if the United States took any further steps to build up its missile defense capabilities. Specifically, the Russian Government stated that the New START treaty ``may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America.'' The Russian Government stated that in the ratification of the treaty. They went on to say that if those conditions were not met, Russia would exercise its right to withdraw from the treaty.

Many of us felt strongly at the time, and feel strongly now, that it was a mistake to ratify a treaty on which the two signatories had two completely antithetical positions about the implications of that treaty, particularly as it pertains to one of our most vital national security programs--our missile defenses. Some of us thought and argued at the time that the United States should not voluntarily sign up to a treaty that would likely be used by the Russian Government as a source of political pressure and blackmail to get us to make concessions on our missile defenses.

Well, here we are, 1 year later, and let's review some of what the Russian Government has been saying and doing in this regard.

On November 23, we read an article from Bloomberg entitled ``Russia Prepares to `Destroy' U.S. Shield.'' This is what it said:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the military to prepare the capability to ``destroy'' the command structure of the planned U.S. missile-defense system in Europe.

Russia may also station strike missiles on its southern and western flanks, including Iskander rockets in the Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, Medvedev said on state television today.

``I have ordered the armed forces to develop measures to ensure, if necessary, that we can destroy the command and control systems'' of the U.S. shield, Medvedev said. ``These measures are appropriate, effective and low-cost.''

On the same day, we read the following in an article in the New York Times entitled ``Russia Elevates Warning About U.S. Missile-Defense Plan in Europe.'' I quote from the article:

Russia will deploy its own missiles and could withdraw from the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty if the United States moves forward with its plans for a missile-defense system in Europe, President Dmitri A. Medvedev warned on Wednesday.

``I have set the task to the armed forces to develop measures for disabling missile-defense data and control systems,'' Mr. Medvedev said. .....

But it was Mr. Medvedev's comments about the New Start treaty, put into effect this year, that suggested a darkening tone in what has been a steady drumbeat of warnings out of Moscow in recent days over the plans for a missile-defense system based in Europe.

``In the case of unfavorable development of the situation, Russia reserves the right to discontinue further steps in the field of disarmament and arms control,'' Mr. Medvedev said in a televised address from his residence outside Moscow. ``Given the intrinsic link between the strategic offensive and defensive arms, conditions for our withdrawal from the New START treaty could also arise,'' he said.

If all this were not troubling enough, we then read on November 28 an article from a Russian state news agency entitled ``Russia's NATO Envoy to Visit China, Iran, Over Missile Defense.'' Here is what was reported:

Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin will visit China and Iran in mid-January to discuss a U.S.-backed global missile defense network.

``We are planning to visit both Beijing and Tehran soon under the Russian president's directive, to discuss the planned deployment of a global missile defense network,'' Rogozin said during a roundtable meeting at the lower house of the Russian parliament.

On November 28, the Russian Government went even further, not just using the New START treaty to try to blackmail us into weakening our missile defenses but threatening to cut off NATO's supply routes into Afghanistan as well, which was another area of limited progress that the administration hailed as part of its so-called reset policy. This is how the Wall Street Journal described it last Monday in an article entitled ``Russia Considers Blocking NATO Supply Routes.''

Russia said it may not let NATO use its territory to supply troops in Afghanistan if the alliance doesn't seriously consider its objections to a U.S.-led missile shield for Europe, Russia's ambassador to NATO said Monday.

If NATO does not give a serious response, ``we have to address matters in relations in other areas,'' Russian news services reported Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO, as saying. He added that Russia's cooperation on Afghanistan may be an area for review, the news services reported.

So let me summarize: After being assured that the New START treaty would contribute to the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations, and that the Russian Government would not use the treaty against us as blackmail, we are now in a situation where the President of Russia is threatening to deploy ballistic missiles to destroy U.S. missile defense systems in Europe; where he is openly threatening to withdraw his government from the New START treaty if the United States does not make unacceptable concessions on its missile defense programs; and where the Russian Ambassador to NATO is threatening to cut off NATO's supply routes to Afghanistan and planning to visit China and Iran with the purpose of deepening Russia's cooperation with those governments against U.S. missile defenses.

I think it is safe to say that the effect to date of the New START treaty on the U.S.-Russia relationship is rather less positive than originally advertised. The problems in our relationship with Russia go well beyond missile defense, as important as that is. In recent months, as the Assad regime in Syria has slaughtered roughly 4,000 of its own citizens who are seeking a democratic future, what has been the Russian Government's response? With the help of China, Russia has been absolutely shameless in blocking any serious action in the United Nations Security Council, including by vetoing a toothless security resolution that would not have even imposed sanctions but merely hinted at the possibility of sanctions. At the same time, while the Assad regime's bloody rampage has continued against the Syrian people, the Russian Government has continued to serve as its primary supplier of weaponry. In fact, last week in a story entitled ``Russia Delivers Missiles to Syria,'' AFP reported that despite the brutal violence of the Assad regime, and over Israel's strenuous objections, Russia delivered 72 supersonic cruise missiles to the Syrian Government worth at least $300 million.

Then there is Russia's continued interference in the sovereign territory and internal affairs of the Republic of Georgia, a country that the Russian military invaded in 2008 and continues to occupy to this day. Two weeks ago there was a Presidential election in the breakaway state of South Ossetia, which is part of Georgia's sovereign territory. But when Moscow's preferred candidate was overwhelmingly defeated in those elections, the supreme court of this Russian proxy state declared the results illegal and nullified the vote. Russian parliamentarians applauded.
Finally, there is the unfortunate issue of Russia's backsliding on human rights and democracy. A few months ago, President Medvedev announced, as we all know, that he would step aside in Russia's election next year so that Vladimir Putin could once again run for the Presidency. Some see this as a sign that Putin will come back. I object to that characterization, because I do not believe Putin ever left. He has been running things in Russia with no less informal power than he had as President.

Not surprisingly, over the past 3 years, the state of human rights and freedom in that country has gotten no better. In fact, things have gotten worse. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this fact is the tragic and heartbreaking case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax attorney working for an international company, Hermitage Capital, that had invested in Russia. Magnitsky did not spend his life as a human rights activist or an outspoken critic of the Russian Government. He was an ordinary man. But he became an extraordinary champion of justice and the rule of law in a Russia where those principles have lost nearly all meaning.

What Magnitsky uncovered was that a collection of Russian Government officials and criminals associated with them colluded to defraud the Russian state of $230 million. The Russian Government, in turn, blamed the crime on Hermitage Capital and threw Magnitsky in prison in 2008. Magnitsky was detained for 11 months without trial.

Russian officials, especially from the interior ministry, pressured Magnitsky to deny what he had uncovered, to lie and recant. But he refused. He was sickened by what his government had done and he refused to surrender. As a result, he was transferred to increasingly more severe and more horrific prison conditions. He was forced to eat unclean food and drink unclear water. He was denied basic medical care even as his health continued to deteriorate. In fact, he was placed in even worse conditions until, on November 16, 2009, having served 358 days in prison, Sergei Magnitsky died. He was 37 years old.

The Magnitsky case shined a light on the tragic realities of human rights abuses in Russia today, and the

overwhelming cruelty and injustice that Magnitsky endured has made it impossible for the government and the people of Russia to ignore. Even the Public Oversight Commission of the City of Moscow for the Control of the Observance of Human Rights in Places of Forced Detention, a Russian organization empowered by Russian law to independently monitor the country's prison conditions, concluded the following in a report this year:

A man who is kept in custody and is being detained is not capable of using all of the necessary means to protect either his life or his health. This is a responsibility of a state which holds him captive. Therefore, the case of Sergei Magnitsky can be described as a breach of the right to life. The members of the civic supervisory commission have reached the conclusion that Magnitsky had been experiencing both psychological and physical pressure in custody, and the conditions in some of the wards ..... can be justifiably called torturous. The people responsible for this must be punished.

The case of Sergei Magnitsky is but an extreme example of a problem that is all too common in Russia today, the flagrant violations of human rights and the rule of law committed by the Russian Government and its allies outside of government. We have seen the problem in the show trial of Mikhail Khordokovsky, which I would remind my colleagues was unfolding at the exact same time that this body was debating the ratification of the New START treaty last December.

After the Russian Government stole Khordokovsky's oil company, it then turned around and charged him for the crime. Even more absurdly, as he was nearing the end of his 8-year prison sentence, the Russian state then charged him again for virtually the same crime. Before the judge had even handed down his verdict, Prime Minister Putin said, Khordokovsky ``should sit in jail.'' And lo and behold, that is exactly what the judge ultimately ruled, sentencing Khodorkovsky to 5 additional years in prison on top of the 8 years he had already served.

Earlier this year, not surprisingly, Khodorkovsky lost his appeal of this ruling. In a report released this year, Freedom House concluded that the cases of Magnitsky and Khodorkovsky:

Put an international spotlight on the Russian state's contempt for the rule of law. ..... By silencing influential and accomplished figures such as Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky, the Russian authorities have made it abundantly clear that anyone in Russia can be silenced.

The violations of human rights in Russia also extend to the deep and worsening problem of corruption, which perhaps as much as any other issue mobilizes the frustration and anger of the Russian public. In its annual index of perceptions of corruption, the independent organization Transparency International ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries. That means that Russia is perceived as more corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. The World Bank considers 122 countries to be better places to do business than Russia. I would point out that one of those countries is the Republic of Georgia, which is ranked 12th by the World Bank.

When we consider the pattern of corruption and abuse the Russian Government has perpetrated over many years, it is not surprising to see the outpouring of anger and dissatisfaction that Russian voters expressed in this weekend's parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, the conduct of that election and especially its aftermath has only validated the growing frustration that Russians feel for their rulers. Before the ballots were even cast, a noted Russian election monitoring organization called Golos was subjected to intimidation, harassment, political pressure, and fines. The subsequent election has been criticized by impartial international observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which documented in its preliminary assessment numerous irregularities and other efforts by the government to sway a vote in its favor.

Instances of ballot stuffing have been documented. For example, in Chechnya, it was reported that 99 percent of the population participated in the election and 99.5 percent of them voted for Putin's party. That seems a little suspicious, especially considering that the Putin government has waged years of bloody warfare in Chechnya.

Despite the fact that the recent Duma election fell short of international standards and violated Russia's law, substantially fewer Russian voters chose to cast their vote for Putin's party, including in its stronghold and home base of St. Petersburg. This frustration has subsequently poured into the streets where Russian citizens have peacefully sought to demonstrate against the recent election fraud. The Russian Government has responded, in turn, by arresting hundreds of opposition leaders, democracy and human rights activists, journalists, and other members of civil society, including Boris Nemtsov, Alexey Navalny, and Ilya Yashin. Those men and women are exercising universal human rights and fundamental freedoms which should not be a crime in any country.

I call on the Government of Russia to release every Russian citizen who is unjustly detained for political purposes and to clarify the whereabouts and conditions of those individuals.

Mr. President, throughout this year, I have said that the demand for dignity, justice, and democracy that is shaking the Arab world to its foundations will not be confined to that one region alone. It will spread. It will inspire others. It will demonstrate to others that the frustrations, indignities, and lack of hope they may feel today need not be the realities they endure tomorrow. They can change those realities. They can change their destiny. They can change their countries. And it appears that message may be resonating with the people in Russia. We should hope that it does resonate and resonate in a peaceful manner, because we agree with a growing number of Russians who clearly believe they deserve better. They deserve a government that respects and responds to their aspirations for a better life. They deserve the power to freely elect their own leaders.

The political development of Russia is more than an issue of moral principle for the United States. It is closely tied to our national interests. We have seen in the past that when autocratic governments feel they are losing legitimacy among their people at home, they try to demonize others, both in their country and beyond it, and redirect their public's anger against imaginary enemies. We have seen how the Putin government has done this in the past. We have seen its attempts to paint the United States and our NATO and other allies as enemies of Russia and to lash out against us in the hope of mobilizing public support at home. This is why the growing pattern of confrontation from the Russian Government that we have seen in recent months--over missile defense, resupply efforts into Afghanistan, and other issues--should be so concerning to us and why we
must understand that the actions of the Russian Government cannot be separated from its character. In fact, as Russia's Government grows less tolerant of its own people's rights at home, we should not be surprised if it treats us the same way.

As I have said before, I believe we need greater realism about Russia, but that is not the same as pessimism or cynicism or demonization. I am ultimately an optimist, and I often find sources for hope in the most hopeless of places.

One year ago, after languishing in prison for 7 years and facing the near certainty of enduring many more, Mikhail Khodorkovsky spoke before his sentencing about the hopes of the Russian people as they watched his trial. He said:

They are watching with the hope that Russia will after all become a country of freedom and of the law. Where supporting opposition parties will cease being a cause for reprisals. Where the special services will protect the people and the law, and not the bureaucracy from the people and the law. Where human rights will no longer depend on the mood of the tsar, good or evil. Where, on the contrary, the power will truly be dependent on the citizens and the court, only on law and God. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to die there. But if I have to, I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for.

That there are still men and women of such spirit in Russia is cause for hope. And eventually--maybe not this year or next year or the year after that but eventually--the Russian people will have a government that is worthy of their aspirations, for equal justice can be delayed and human dignity can be denied but not forever.

I yield the floor.


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