Title

The Dog Barks, but the Caravan Moves On: Highs and Lows in U.S.-Russia Relations

Thursday, March 27, 2014
2103 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C., DC 20024
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Robert Aderholt
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Moderator(s): 
Name: 
Kyle Parker
Title Text: 
Policy Advisor
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
James Warhola
Title: 
Chairman
Body: 
University of Maine's Department of Political Science
Name: 
Matthew Rojansky
Title: 
Director
Body: 
Kennan Institute, Wilson Center for International Studies

This briefing addressed the state of the relationship between the United States and Russia and the need for continued cooperation across a range of vital interests. A number of questions were posed, including the following: Is the chill in relations deja vu all over again or a new and different break? Are bilateral relations doomed to perpetual confrontation? What are reasonable expectations for the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship?

Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including James W. Warhola, Chairman of University of Maine’s Department of Political Science and Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center for International Scholars – sought to provide answers to these questions. Some suggestions for improving relations between the two countries given the relevant circumstances included maintaining open lines of communication, defining mutual interests, and responding to Russian action in Crimea through economic means.

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  • I Was Locked Up and Tortured by Putin’s Spooks

    Yuriy Yatsenko is an activist of the Euromaidan who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released. This is a shortened version of his testimony before the US Helsinki Commission in Washington on December 11, 2015. I am a Ukrainian citizen who was illegally arrested and detained by the Russian Federation for over a year for political reasons. Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov and others who are less known have suffered and continue to suffer the same fate. In May 2014, I was in Russia's Kursk region with a friend on a business trip. During a routine document check that Russian police officers often practice, I was detained. At the police department, an FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) agent showed me a photograph of myself taken during the Euromaidan protests, which I suspect he had found on social media. The agent demanded that my friend and I provide false testimony; he wanted us to admit that we had been recruited by Right Sector or by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine to commit acts of terrorism in Russia. At the time, I was an ordinary student from western Ukraine and could not believe that such absurd accusations were being made against me. My western Ukrainian origin became an additional reason for Russian law enforcement personnel to harass me. After we refused to incriminate ourselves, they began beating us at regular intervals. We were also offered an option of going on Russian TV and giving a predetermined speech about being sent to Russia from Ukraine to commit subversive acts, but instead we turned to the FSB for protection to save us from the Ukrainian authorities and their persecution. We refused, so the harassment continued and turned into physical and psychological abuse. One FSB official threatened to hand me over to the president of Chechnya. At first, the abuse and the beatings were constant. I was regularly placed in punishment cells and solitary confinement. I remember one particularly brutal instance. Some special forces soldiers, wearing masks and uniforms bearing no insignia other than the colors of the Russian flag, put a bag over my head, took me into the woods and tortured me. They hanged me by my handcuffs for hours and beat me in the head, groin and other parts of the body. They strangled me. They also simulated an execution, firing a gun next to my head. The next morning, which was two weeks after my arrest, I used a shaving blade to cut my abdomen and the veins on my arms to stop this abuse. Only then was I taken to the hospital; there, I finally managed to inform my family about my whereabouts. Despite a court decision ordering our deportation, my friend and I were illegally kept at a special detention center for illegal immigrants for three months. During this period, beatings and torture were constant. Three months later, my friend was released and taken to the Ukrainian border, while I was suddenly charged with possessing explosives. The court found me guilty in spite of the absurdity of these accusations and the absence of any evidence. At first, I was sentenced to two years in prison, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to nine months. By that time, I had already spent a year in detention, so I was released. The fact that I'm free now is a testament to the publicity campaigns, international pressure and coordinated work of human rights advocates and lawyers. When I was in detention, guards informed me from time to time that another article about my case appeared in the press, or that another press conference dedicated to my case was held. They seemed to be alarmed by this activism, and kept saying that it should be stopped, that everything should be "done quietly." That is why public events in support of prisoners are extremely important; they signal to the repressive regime that it is being watched closely and that none of the prisoners are forgotten. At least 13 Ukrainians are detained illegally somewhere in the Russian Federation, and at least eight prisoners are being held in occupied Crimea, both Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. The criminal cases against them are fabricated, most have been brutally tortured and some have been deprived of their right to meet with an attorney or a Ukrainian consul for over a year. These are people of various ages, professions and politics, but they share one thing—their lives have become an instrument of Russian state-sponsored propaganda that has created the image of Ukraine as a mortal enemy. Kremlin officials constantly look for ways to justify their hybrid war in Ukraine, which is why innocent Ukrainian citizens are proclaimed to be terrorists, spies and fascists. I appeal to you on behalf of the #LetMyPeopleGo campaign. There are no independent courts in Russia; this is why politically motivated cases have no chance of being decided fairly. Only international pressure can help achieve the release of those detained. We are waiting for the return of Savchenko, Olexandr Kolchenko, Sentsov, Gennadiy Afanasiev, Olexii Chirnii, Sergiy Lytvynov, Mykola Karpiuk, Stanislav Klyh, Olexandr Kostenko, Haiser Dzhemilev, Yurii Soloshenko, Valentyn Vyhyvskii and Viktor Shur. We also demand that Russia stop occupying Crimea and that Akhtem Chyihoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermendzhy, Yuriy Ilchenko, Ruslan Zaytullaev, Nuri Primov, Rustam Vaytov and Ferat Sayfullaev be freed. It is likely that this list is incomplete. Nevertheless, we demand that Russia release all of its prisoners who have been subject to politically motivated persecution.

  • It's Time to Hold the Azerbaijan Regime Accountable

    Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's habit of brutally silencing dissent may be finally catching up with him. A new bill introduced in Congress last month would require the U.S. State Department to deny visas to senior members of Aliyev's government until the country can prove it has ceased harassment of independent media and NGOs and made significant progress toward freeing its political prisoners. Despite facing long odds, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 marks a major turning point. For years, the United States has struggled to muster any real condemnation of Azerbaijan's government, one of the most corrupt and repressive in the world. U.S. officials and lawmakers still routinely refer to their Azerbaijani counterparts as "friends" despite the fact that the former Soviet country's latest crackdown has been accompanied by a general turn away from the West. Or should we say partial turn. Azerbaijan wants to be at the table with Western nations when money is up for grabs, but it hasn't acquired the same taste for values about human rights and dignity. This juxtaposition was perhaps most apparent earlier this year when the country hosted the inaugural European Games, a 17-day competition featuring 6,000 athletes from 50 countries. The capital city of Baku spared no expense to project a modern, glamorous image during the event--even flying in Lady Gaga for a surprise performance. For many people, it was a first glimpse of Azerbaijan. But that glimpse was carefully choreographed. Foreign reporters who agreed to play by the government's rules were rewarded with access to the games; others,including Guardian sports correspondent Owen Gibson, were banned from attending after calling out human rights abuses in the country. What the cameras did not capture that night was the escape of Emin Huseynov, the founder of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, who fled Azerbaijan for Switzerland on the private plane of the Swiss foreign minister. Huseynov first sought refuge at the Swiss embassy ten months earlier after Azerbaijani authorities raided his office. Other human rights advocates and journalists have not been as fortunate. Within a 10-day period in August 2014, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, and Leyla and Arif Yunus all were arrested. They were later subjected to speedy show trials resulting in lengthy prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. Leyla and Arif, both seriously ill, have recently been released to serve suspended sentences but still face charges of treason. Employees of Meydan TV, whose founder reported receiving a high-level threat during the European Games, have been barred from leaving Azerbaijan, repeatedly questioned at the prosecutor's office, and detained without cause. Their families have also faced pressure. Two brothers of editor Gunel Movlud are currently being held on bogus drug charges. Most tragically, in August, Rasim Aliyev, a journalist and chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, died after he was severely beaten by attackers. Although the assault was reportedly connected to a criticism Aliyev made of a soccer player on Facebook, Aliyev had previously experienced threats against his life. The attack was one of hundreds against Azerbaijan's journalists in the past decade, including at least two other murders. Quiet diplomacy from the United States and the European Union has failed to reverse Azerbaijan's relentless pursuit of critics and civil society groups. The State Department called Leyla Yunus' release earlier this month a "welcome" development and a "positive step." Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested the day before, and the treason trial of dissident journalist Rauf Mirqadirov is still underway. But perhaps President Aliyev's luck is running out. In November, in an unprecedented step, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, its Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament all canceled monitoring missions to Azerbaijan to protest the irregularity of the country's parliamentary elections. Last month, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, made a bold move of his own, announcing an inquiry into Azerbaijan's implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. And on the same day, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act and held a hearing on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, one of the few journalists in Azerbaijan who dared to report on corruption among the country's ruling elite. Ismayilova was arrested last year and is now serving a seven and a half-year prison sentence. Ismayilova has kept up the pressure on her country even from behind bars. On the eve of the European Games, with the help of Sport for Rights, a coalition of international press freedom groups that recently published a report on Azerbaijan's human rights record, she managed to get a letter out of jail to The New York Times. "The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse," she wrote, urging the international community: "Do not let the government of Azerbaijan distract your attention from its record of corruption and abuse." Maybe now the world is ready to listen.

  • U.S. Bill Seeks Sanctions On Azerbaijani Officials For 'Appalling' Rights Record

    A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation that would deny U.S. visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to what he calls Baku's "appalling human rights violations." U.S. Representative Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey) introduced the bill, titled the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, in the House of Representatives on December 16. "The human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in Azerbaijan, causing damage to its relations with the United States and other countries, and has damaged its own society by imprisoning or exiling some of its best and brightest citizens," Smith told a hearing of Congress's Helsinki Commission held in conjunction with the announcement of the legislation.

  • Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea

    The briefing reviewed the current condition of life in Crimea under Russian rule. Panelists highlighted the illegal nature of Russian rule over the peninsula and described the human rights abuses commited by the new authorities. Several of the panelists described the propaganda campaign and censorship that the Russian government has been carrying out to tighten its grip on the peninsula. Participants also outlined possible responses by the international community -- particularly sanctions -- to address the situation in Crimea.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Probe Human Rights Violations in Occupied Crimea

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea” Friday, December 11 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory of Crimea in March 2014 – which flagrantly violated numerous international agreements, including core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act – resulted in a deplorable human rights situation that continues today.   Changes in government and the legal framework in Crimea following Russia’s annexation have had a toxic impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Violations of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are widespread, especially against those who openly oppose the Russian occupation, including Crimean Tatars and other ethnic, political, and religious groups. The Helsinki Commission briefing will present key findings of the recent report, “Human Rights on Occupied Territory: Case of Crimea,” prepared by an international team of lawyers led by Ivanna Bilych.  Panelists from Ukraine will provide valuable insights about the situation on the ground. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ivanna Bilych, Co-founder and President of VOLYA Institute, board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association Andriy Klymenko, Chief Editor of Black Sea News; prominent economist, originally from Crimea Bohdan Yaremenko, Chairman of the board of the Ukrainian non-governmental organization, Maidan of Foreign Affairs, former Ukrainian diplomat Yuriy Yatsenko, Activist of the Maidan Revolution of Dignity who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released after a year of imprisonment

  • Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims

    Recent research indicates that more than 80 percent of human trafficking victims in the United States have contact with the healthcare system in the course of being trafficked. Some victims are even brought to the clinic by their trafficker. However, opportunities to identify trafficking victims during their interactions with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are often missed. The briefing was the latest installment in the ongoing TVPA oversight series with a focus on best practice development for identifying--and rescuing--foreign trafficking victims in the U.S. Panelists included two foreign-born trafficking victims who shared insights on what helped them escape, and how doctors in the United States could have helped free them sooner. Expert analysis was also provided by panelists from the healthcare field and the NGO community.

  • Smith Resolution to Help Protect Jewish Communities in Europe Passes House Unanimously

    WASHINGTON—Following the recent upswing in violent anti-Semitic attacks in several European nations, the U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed legislation urging the United States and European governments to take key steps to help keep Jewish communities safe. The legislation was introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks has increased from 100 to 400 percent in some European countries since 2013,” said Rep. Smith, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. “The murders in Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere reminded us that there are those who are motivated by anti-Semitism and have the will to kill.” H. Res. 354 calls on the U.S. Administration to encourage European governments, law enforcement agencies, and intergovernmental organizations to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks. “This resolution calls for the United States Government to work with our European allies on specific actions that are essential to keep European Jewish communities safe and secure,” Rep. Smith continued. “It is based on consultations with the leading experts who are working directly with these communities.” The legislation passed today was endorsed by leading Jewish community groups including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, the Secure Community Network, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The 89 bipartisan co-sponsors included all seven of the other co-Chairs of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism: Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-21), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Kay Granger (TX-12), Steve Israel (NY-03), and Peter Roskam (IL-06). “Jewish Federations are grateful to the House of Representatives for passing a responsive resolution today, which provides a needed framework for how the U.S. government and Jewish community security groups like the Secure Community Network can work with their European counterparts to combat increasing anti-Semitic attacks in Europe,” said William C. Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America. “Jewish Federations are proud to have worked with Congress on this resolution's language and passage.” “Battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is vital to ensure the democratic and pluralistic fabric of Europe for all its citizens,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “This resolution sends a powerful message that battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is a shared responsibility.” “As a former law enforcement executive responsible for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, I applaud the unwavering leadership and determination of Congressman Smith for bringing this resolution to fruition,” said Paul Goldenberg, National Director of the Secure Community Network.  “It is a time of tremendous need, concern and uncertainty for all faith-based communities who face intimidation, hate crimes and fear of violence.” Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism.  He is the author of the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department. Following his 2002 landmark hearing on combating the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism.  In 2009, he delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism London conference. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.”

  • Russian Violations of the Rule of Law: How Should the U.S. Respond? 3 Case Studies

    This hearing, held on October 20, 2015, discussed Russia's compliance with the rule of law across the three dimensions of the OSCE: military security, commercial, and human rights committments.  The witnesses focused their testimonies on three particularly relevant case studies: arms control agreements, the Yukos litigation, and instances of abduction, unjust imprisonment and abuse of prisoners.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Chris Smith Shines Light on Egregious Rule-of-Law Abuses by Russian Government

    WASHINGTON—At a Congressional hearing today, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, spotlighted the many recent violations of the rule of law committed by the Russian government. “Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, we face a set of challenges with Russia, a founding member of the organization, that mirror the concerns that gave rise to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who called the hearing. “At stake is the hard-won trust between members, now eroded to the point that armed conflict rages in the OSCE region. The question is open whether the principles continue to bind the Russian government with other states in a common understanding of what the rule of law entails.” “Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas region not only clearly violate this commitment, but also every guiding principle of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.  It appears these are not isolated instances.  In recent years, Russia appears to have violated, undermined, disregarded, or even disavowed fundamental and binding arms control commitments,” Smith continued. “[I also] question Russia’s OSCE commitment to develop free, competitive markets that respect international dispute arbitration mechanisms...[and recent government actions] demonstrate Russia’s readiness to abuse its laws and judicial system to limit individual freedoms both within and beyond its borders.” Witness testimony highlighted case studies corresponding to each of the three dimensions of comprehensive security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): politico-military security; economic and environmental security; and human rights and fundamental freedoms. Tim Osborne, executive director of GML Ltd., the majority owner of the now-liquidated Yukos Oil Company, said, “It is clear that the Russian Federation is not honoring its obligations and commitments under the rule of law or in a manner consistent with the Helsinki process.  Russia’s tendency, more often than not, has been to ignore, delay, obstruct or retaliate when faced with its international law responsibilities…Russia cannot be trusted in international matters and that even when it has signed up to international obligations, it will ignore them if that is what it thinks serves it best.” “Russia had engaged in the uncompensated expropriation of billions of dollars of U.S. investments in Yukos Oil Company,” observed former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Ambassador Alan Larson. “American investors—who owned about 12 percent of Yukos at the time of the expropriation—have claims worth over $14 billion, and they are entitled to compensation under international law even though they have no option for bringing claims directly against the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Kara-Murza, a well-known Russian activist and the coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, said, “Today, the Kremlin fully controls the national airwaves, which it has turned into transmitters for its propaganda…the last Russian election recognized by the OSCE as conforming to basic democratic standards was held more than 15 years ago.” “There are currently 50 political prisoners in the Russian Federation,” Kara-Murza continued. “These prisoners include opposition activists jailed under the infamous ‘Bolotnaya case’ for protesting against Mr. Putin’s inauguration in May 2012; the brother of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny; and Alexei Pichugin, the remaining hostage of the Yukos case.” “A clear pattern emerges when one looks at Russia’s implementation of its arms control obligations overall,” observed Stephen Rademaker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Nonproliferation. “Should Moscow conclude such agreements have ceased to serve its interest, it will ignore them, effectively terminate them, violate them while continuing to pay them lip service, or selectively implement them…Russia believes that this is how great powers are entitled to act, and today Moscow insists on acting and being respected as a great power.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a panel of lawmakers including Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04).

  • Europe's Refugee Crisis: How Should the US, EU and OSCE Respond?

    This hearing, held on October 20, 2015, discussed possible responses to the Syrian refugee crisis.  Witnesses, including representatives from the American and Serbian governments, the UNHCR, the European Union, and non-profit groups working with refugees, highlighted the scale and intensity of the crisis.  Many of the witnesses also emphasized the need for cooperation among governments and between governments and non-profit organizations in addressing this crisis.

  • Russian Rule-of-Law Abuses to Be Examined at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Russian Violations of the Rule of Law: How Should the U.S. Respond? 3 Case Studies” Wednesday, October 21 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 Live Webcast: http://bit.ly/1VRaf3G The actions of the Russian government have raised questions about Russia’s failure to respect its commitment to the rule of law in the areas of military security, commerce, and laws bearing on human rights – each corresponding to one of the three dimensions of security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   Using the Helsinki Final Act as a basis for discussion, the hearing will focus on security violations of the Budapest Memorandum; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Open Skies, Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties, and the Vienna Document.  Regarding international legal and commercial agreements such as the Energy Charter Treaty, the New York Convention and bilateral investment treaties the hearing will review developments in the Yukos Oil case.  On human rights, it will inquire into cases of abduction/unjust imprisonment, torture, and abuse, including those of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, and Eston Kover.   The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Coordinator, Open Russia Movement Alan Larson, Senior International Policy Advisor with Covington & Burlington LLP, former Under Secretary of State for Economics and Career Ambassador, U.S. State Department      Tim Osborne, Executive Director of GML Ltd. - the majority owner of the now liquidated Yukos Oil Company Stephen Rademaker, Principal with the Podesta Group, Former Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Arms Control and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing to Examine Europe's Refugee Crisis

    Europe is experiencing an enormous refugee crisis. An estimated half a million migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015; as many as 50 percent are Syrian refugees.  Thousands more join them each day, and many of the European nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are struggling to cope.

    As the regional security organization in Europe, how can the OSCE use its tools, standards, and commitments to help manage the humanitarian crisis and ensure that security and economic challenges are addressed? What has the US government done, and what should it be doing? The hearing will examine the reasons for the current crisis; relevant OSCE and other European agreements, commitments, and structures; the response of the OSCE, the EU, and the US; potential security issues related to the ability of extremists to infiltrate the refugee stream; and the potential for refugees to become victims of human trafficking.

  • Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Represents US at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Also Visits Ukraine, Czech Republic

    Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act established the precursor to today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), five members of the Helsinki Commission and four other members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Helsinki to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Led by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS), the bicameral, bipartisan delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission included Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith (NJ- 04); House Commissioners Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04), Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Alan Grayson (FL-09); and Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07). Before attending the Annual Session from July 5 to 7, several members of the delegation also visited Ukraine and the Czech Republic. A central concern to the delegation throughout the trip was Russia’s restrictions on democracy at home and aggression in Ukraine, along with Russia’s threat to European security.

  • Central Asia Becomes New Target for ISIS Recruiters

    Thousands of fighters have fled their home countries to join the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, including the chief of the counter-terrorism program in a Central Asian country. Col. Gulmurod Khalimov, who was highly trained by the U.S., left his post in Tajikistan, posting a video online last week as proof. While perhaps the most notable example, Khalimov is only one of an estimated 4,000 people who have left nations in central Asia to join ISIS, according to the International Crisis Group. “What does this say about the current effort to stop terror-minded men and women from volunteering and traveling to the Middle East?” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., asked at a hearing about the recruitment of foreign fighters from Central Asia. The hearing took place on the anniversary of ISIS’ capture of Mosul, Iraq. “Clearly, our government – working with others …  must take stronger action to combat radicalization beyond our borders.” In a step toward this goal, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Smith is a co-chairman, held a hearing to discuss recruitment of foreign fighters from Central Asia countries. The commission, also known as the Helsinki Commission, focused on the five countries in the region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

  • Putin Opponent Near Death in Suspected Poisoning

    An outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin was near death Friday from an apparent poisoning just three months after his close political ally was gunned down near the Kremlin, and supporters want him evacuated to Europe or Israel to determine what sickened him. Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., who has long been based in Washington, was in a hotel in Moscow when he suddenly lost consciousness May 26 and was hospitalized with what his wife called "symptoms of poisoning." The 33-year-old is a coordinator for Open Russia, a nongovernmental organization which on the previous day released a documentary film accusing close Putin crony and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov of human rights abuses including torture and murder. "I am deeply concerned about the mysterious illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza, especially given the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov and the number of Putin's opponents who have been poisoned," [Helsinki Commission Chair] Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said in a statement.

  • Chairman Smith Deeply Concerned about Illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza

    WASHINGTON—Following the sudden and debilitating illness of Russian political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:   “I am deeply concerned about the mysterious illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza, especially given the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov and the number of Putin’s opponents who have been poisoned. I strongly urge the Russian government to guarantee Mr. Kara-Murza’s safety and facilitate his transfer to a hospital outside of the Russian Federation for further evaluation and care.” In 2011, Mr. Kara-Murza spoke at a Helsinki Commission briefing, “Russia’s Upcoming Elections and the Struggle for Public and Competitive Politics.”

  • Chairman Smith Rebukes U.S. Administration: "Delay Is Denial" Regarding Military Aid to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—At today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “Ukraine Under Siege,” Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) took the U.S. Administration to task for its delay in providing defensive military assistance to Ukraine. “We have a de facto defensive weapons arms embargo on Ukraine … Delay is denial. People are dying,” Chairman Smith said. “Over 6,000 are dead. Many of these are children and women.” He continued, “[The Ukrainians] need us …they told me off-the-record how profoundly disappointed they are in President Obama, especially in light of people around him saying, ‘Please, Mr. President, this is a time for American leadership.’ When will the decision [to provide defensive military assistance] be made?” “They need defensive weapons and they need them now,” he concluded. During his remarks, Chairman Smith compared the current situation in Ukraine to the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s, when the U.S. failed to provide military assistance that would have allowed Bosnians and Croatians to defend themselves against the aggression of Slobodan Milošević. He also expressed concern about the plight of detained Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who is currently on the 82nd day of a hunger strike in Moscow.

  • Unequivocal Support for Israel

    Mr. Speaker, I’d like to thank my colleague, Mr. Stewart, for reserving this time to send a message of vigorous, unequivocal, and unflinching U.S. support for Israel. Mr. Speaker, on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s historic address, we have to join his efforts to set the focus on the existential, genocidal threat Iran poses to Israel. We have to be realistic about Iranian President Rouhani because many in the media – and some in the administration – have been reluctant to do that. Rouhani has a long history of murderous anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. The corpses are all over the globe.  Rouhani chaired Iran’s National Security Council from 1989 to 2005 – the years when Iran plotted the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center, which killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. The 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers was also under his tenure – this one killed 19 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia. He continues to support the global terrorism of Hezbollah. Likewise, Rouhani’s defense minister, Hossein Dehghan, participated in plotting the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut – this crime took the lives of 241 Americans, including Paul Innocenzi from my district. His Justice Minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, played a role in 1988 and 1998 in the summary executions of Iranian political prisoners and killings of intellectuals, as well as assassinations abroad. Mr. Speaker, this is the man that our government and Prime Minister Netanyahu are dealing with. For 16 years Rouhani ran Iran’s nuclear program. He has boasted openly of his success in using negotiations as a tool to buy time to advance his program. The question before us is whether the agreement President Obama is trying to close with Rouhani is yet another deal favorable to the Iranian government, allowing it to move the hand on the nuclear clock yet closer to midnight. There are many signs that this is the case. Most reports on the negotiations are that the administration is not trying to prevent a nuclear Iran, but only to preserve some “breakout time”  - yet will not require the kind of transparency to make even that a remotely reliable measure. Even worse, it seems the administration is prepared to accept a “sunset clause” – a date after which Iranian nuclear arms would be completely legitimated. And the deal being crafted reportedly ignores Iran’s ballistic missile program. All this amounts to a potential catastrophe. Unfortunately, the administration seems to have telegraphed its determination to get a deal with Rouhani – almost any deal – and to shut Congress out. This is why I am concerned, and why we in Congress and the American people need to hear all the more from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Let’s let the Prime Minister know that Congress and the American people stand with Israel, without any ‘ifs,’ or ‘buts,’ or ‘so long as,’ or any other qualifiers, and without any illusions about the murderous and manipulative intentions of Rouhani. I’d like to close by thanking Speaker Boehner for inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu.

  • Chairman Smith Condemns Brutal Murder of Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov

    WASHINGTON—Following tonight’s reports of the shooting death of peaceful opposition leader and former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:   “I condemn the brutal slaying of Boris Nemtsov in the strongest terms possible. The gangland-style murder of a leading Russian dissident on the streets of Moscow raises the question of whether bullets have replaced the ballot box in Russia, and whether any peaceful opposition voice is safe. We mourn Mr. Nemtsov’s death and send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.” According to Russian officials, Mr. Nemtsov was shot four times in the back on a street near the Kremlin. A leader of Russia’s political opposition, he was a co-founder of Solidarity and a key organizer of a scheduled March 1 protest in Moscow. Mr. Nemtsov served as First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under President Boris Yeltsin. He spoke at a Helsinki Commission event in Washington in November 2010 at the world premiere of the film “Justice for Sergei.”

  • Chairman Smith and Serbian Foreign Minister Support OSCE Role in Promoting Peace in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON–On February 25, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, held a hearing at which Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister of Serbia and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), testified as to his plans for Serbia’s 2015 leadership of the OSCE. The chief issue facing the organization is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the humanitarian needs of the people of eastern Ukraine, including the OSCE’s role in monitoring the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Both Russia and Ukraine are among the 57 member states of the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization. Opening the hearing, Chairman Smith said that Foreign Minister Dacic’s leadership of the OSCE “comes at a moment of tragedy, of tremendous human suffering.” Smith emphasized that “one OSCE member – the Russian government – is tearing the heart out of a neighboring member, Ukraine.” “Understanding that the OSCE is a consensus organization – meaning that the Russian government has an effective veto over many significant actions – we believe that the OSCE is still able and responsible to speak the truth about the conflict, to find ways to limit it, and to help the people of Ukraine,” he said. Foreign Minister Dacic emphasized that “the Serbian Chairmanship will make every effort to help restore peace in Ukraine.” In its role as Chairman of the OSCE, Dacic said, “Serbia brings to the table good relations with all the key stakeholders, and we are making every effort to serve as an honest broker and use our leadership role to utilize the OSCE toolbox impartially and transparently.” Foreign Minister Dacic also discussed the fight against human trafficking and anti-Semitism with Chairman Smith.  Other members of the Helsinki Commission participating in the hearing included Senator Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Joe Pitts, Alcee Hastings, and Steve Cohen.

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