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McCain's Floor Statement on Russia

3:30 PM, Dec 16, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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three men pushed him to the ground and punched him repeatedly on the head. “Even when I was unconscious, they didn’t let me go,” Mr. Lipatov said. This beating was recorded on video by protesters. Mr. Lipatov’s colleagues used the video to track down the men who beat him. They were police officers. While Mr. Lipatov, 28, was recovering in the hospital, he said two other police officers visited and urged him to sign a statement saying that he had provoked the attack….

Officials later acknowledged that police officers had been involved in the attack, but they still brought no charges. Instead, they raided Mr. Lipatov’s offices, seized computers and brought a criminal extremism suit against him. They asserted that he had sought to foment “negative stereotypes and negative images of members of the security forces.”

Fearing for his safety and more criminal charges, he quit.

Sadly, I could go on and on like this, Mr. President, to say nothing of the many unsolved murders, so I would ask that the entire article be included in the record.

Russia’s beleaguered political opposition unfortunately fairs no better than its journalists. I have met a few times this year with former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who organizes peaceful political rallies to protest the lack of democracy in Russia, a right granted under the Russian constitution. But these rallies are often targeted and violently broken up by Russian authorities.

Considering that this is how Russian officials treat their fellow citizens, it is not hard to see a profound connection between the Russian government’s authoritarian actions at home and its aggressive behavior abroad. The most glaring example of this remains Georgia. Over two years after its invasion, Russia not only continues to occupy 20 percent of Georgia’s sovereign territory, it is building military bases there, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia, and denying access to humanitarian missions – all in violation of Russia’s obligations under the ceasefire agreement negotiated by President Sarkozy. In a major recent step, President Saakashvili even renounced the use of force to end Russia’s occupation, pledging only to defend non-occupied Georgia in the event of a Russian attack. And yet, Russian officials responded hostilely and dismissively.

When we consider the various crimes and abuses of this Russian government, Mr. President, it is hard to believe that this government shares our deepest values. Now, this does not mean that we cannot or should not work with the Russian Federation where possible. The world doesn’t work that way. What it does mean is that we need a national debate about the real nature of this Russian government, about what kind of relationship is possible with this government, and about the place that Russia should realistically occupy in U.S. foreign policy. The Senate’s consideration of the New START Treaty offers a chance to have this debate, as does Russia’s accession to the WTO. Some may want to avoid it, but we cannot.

I believe we need a greater sense of realism about Russia, but that is not the same as pessimism, or cynicism, or demonization. I am an optimist, even about Russia, and I often find sources for hope in the most hopeless of places. Mikhail Khordokovsky has languished in prison for seven years. And on December 27th, he will likely be forced to endure many more. And yet, in a final appeal to the judge in his case, Mr. Khordokovsky gave one of the more moving speeches I have heard in a long time, and I would ask that it be included in the record, Mr. President. This is how Mr. Khordokovsky saw the broader implication of his trial, and I quote:

I will not be exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes throughout all of Russia and throughout the whole world are watching for the outcome of this trial. 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, these Russians will occupy their rightful place as the leaders of their nation – for equal justice can be delayed, and human dignity can be denied, but not forever.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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