Senator John McCain just delivered this lengthy speech on Mikhail Khordokovsky, Platon Lebedev, and U.S.-Russia relations:
Mr. President: I recognize that we are discussing the New START Treaty at this time, and I look forward in the coming days to returning to the floor to speak about this important national security issue, and to offer amendments. But this afternoon, Mr. President, I would like to speak about a different though related matter: the continued imprisonment of Mikhail Khordokovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev – and the imminent verdict by a Russian judge to likely extend that imprisonment, which was delayed from yesterday to December 27.
As if we needed any more reason to know what verdict is coming, this is it. The Russian government seems to be trying to bury some inconvenient news by issuing it two days after Christmas, and after we will probably be finished debating the possible ratification of a treaty with the Russian Federation. Some may see this as evidence that the Russian government is accommodating U.S. interests and desires. I would be more inclined to believe that if these political prisoners were set free.
Until that time, I will continue to believe that when Prime Minister Putin says Mr. Khordokovsky, quote, ‘should sit in jail,’ as he said just yesterday, that this is exactly the verdict the Russian court will deliver. For the fact is, Mr. President, the political fix has been in for years now on this case. Mr. Khordokovsky built one of the most successful companies in post-Soviet Russia, and while I am under no illusions that some of these gains may have been ill-gotten, the subsequent crimes committed against him by the Russian government have exceeded the boundaries of human decency, equal and lawful justice, and the God-given rights of man.
In 2003, when Mr. Khordokovsky became increasingly outspoken about the Russian government’s abuses of power – its growing authoritarianism, corruption, and disregard for the law – he was arbitrarily arrested and detained under political charges. His company was stolen from him by Russian authorities, and he was thrown in prison through a process that fell far short of the universal standards of due process. Mr. Khordokovsky was held in those conditions for several years, and when his sentence was drawing to a close, lo and behold, new charges were brought against him, which were even more blatantly political than the previous ones: Mr. Khordokovsky was charged with stealing all of the oil of the very company that had been so egregiously stolen from him. The trial that has now concluded did not even have a jury – just one judge, whose independence from the political pressures of Russian authorities was always in doubt.
So what will happen next, Mr. President, seems rather clear. After spending seven years in prison, Mr. Khordokovsky will likely face many more, which I fear is tantamount to a death sentence. This case is a travesty of justice for one man, but it is also a revealing commentary on the nature of the Russian government today.
Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us – and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?
What’s worse, the sad case of Mikhail Khordokovsky now looks like one of more modest offenses of the corrupt officials ruling Russia today. I would like to quote from a recent article in The Economist, dated December 9, 2010 and entitled ‘Frost at the Core,’ which I would like to enter into the record, Mr. President.
“Mr Khodorkovsky,” The Economist writes, “is a symbol of the injustices perpetrated by corrupt bureaucrats and members of the security services, who epitomise the nexus between power and wealth.” The article goes on to describe the staggering scale of corruption in Russia today, and I quote:
Shortly before his arrest Mr Khodorkovsky estimated state corruption at around $30 billion, or 10% of the country’s GDP. By 2005 the bribes market, according to INDEM, a think-tank, had risen to $300 billion, or 20% of GDP. As Mr Khodorkovsky said in a recent interview, most of this was not the bribes paid to traffic police or doctors, but contracts awarded by bureaucrats to their affiliated companies….
Their wealth is dependent on their administrative power, rather than newfangled property rights. The profits are often stashed away in foreign bank accounts or quickly spent: on luxury property in European capitals, or on their children’s education in British private schools….
Unsurprisingly, surveys now show that the young would rather have a job in the government or a state firm than in a private business. Over the past ten years the number of bureaucrats has gone up by 66%, from 527,000 to 878,000, and the cost of maintaining such a state machine has risen from 15% to 20% of GDP.
Other figures point to the same conclusions as The Economist. In its annual index of perceptions of corruption, Transparency International ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries – perceived as more corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. The World Bank considers 122 countries to be better places to do business than Russia. One of those countries is Georgia, which the World’s Bank ranks as the 12th best country to do business. President Medvedev speaks often, and at times eloquently, about the need for Russia to be governed by the rule of law. Considering the likely outcome of Mr. Khordokovsky’s show trial, it is not surprising why President Medvedev himself has lamented that his anti-corruption campaign has produced, in his words, “no results.”
Russians who want better for their country and dare to challenge the corrupt bureaucrats who govern it are often targeted with impunity. One case that has garnered enormous attention, both within Russia and around the world, is that of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax attorney for an American investor who uncovered the theft by Russian officials of $230 million from the Russian treasury. Because of Mr. Magnitsky’s relentless investigation into this corruption, the Russian Interior Ministry threw him in prison to silence him. He was deprived of clean water, left in a freezing cell for days, and denied medical care. After 358 days of this abuse, Sergei Magnitsky died. He was 37. Not only has the Russian government held no one accountable for his death, several officials connected to Mr. Magnitsky’s imprisonment and murder have actually received commendations.
Then there is the tragic case of Russia’s last remaining independent journalists. Last month, a Russian journalist named Oleg Kashin, who had written critically of a violent youth movement associated with the Kremlin, was beaten by attackers who broke his jaw, both his legs, and many of his fingers – a clear political message to other writers. No one has been charged for this crime, and writing in the New York Times this Sunday, Mr. Kashin suggests that no one ever will.
“[I]t seems indubitable,” he writes, “that the atmosphere of hatred and aggression, artificially fomented by the Kremlin, has become the dominant fact in Russian politics, the reset in relations with the United States and talk of economic modernization notwithstanding…. A man with a steel rod is standing behind the smiling politicians who speak of democracy. That man is the real defender of the Kremlin and its order. I got to feel that man with my own head.”
I would ask that this entire article be included in the record as well, Mr. President.
An earlier New York Times news story, dated May 17th of this year – and entitled ‘Russian Journalists, Fighting Graft, Pay in Blood’ – describes the fate of other independent journalists in Russia. One is Mikhail Beketov, who exposed corruption in a Moscow suburb. This is what happened to him, and I quote:
“Last spring, I called for the resignation of the city’s leadership,” Mr. Beketov said in one of his final editorials. “A few days later, my automobile was blown up. What is next for me?” Not long after, he was savagely beaten outside his home and left to bleed in the snow. His fingers were bashed, and three later had to be amputated, as if his assailants had sought to make sure that he would never write another word. He lost a leg. Now 52, he is in a wheelchair, his brain so damaged that he cannot utter a simple sentence.”
No one has been charged or held responsible for this crime either, Mr. President.
The same article mentions another journalist, Pyotr Lipatov, who was attacked while covering an opposition rally. As he was leaving, the article says, and I quote:
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.