Helsinki Commission on Sanctions Extended by Russia on Commissioners and StaffMonday, May 23, 2022
WASHINGTON—After Saturday’s announcement by the Russian foreign ministry that the latest list of Americans permanently banned from traveling to Russia includes all members of Helsinki Commission leadership, the overwhelming majority of commissioners, and nearly 20 current and former commission staff members, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The Helsinki Commission and our professional staff have worked consistently throughout our history to ensure that all OSCE participating States—including Russia—live up to their commitments to human rights and the rule of law. Clearly our work has made a significant impression on Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies, if even staff who left the commission years ago are being sanctioned by the regime. With these actions to bar travel to Russia by experts on the country, Putin continues his campaign to isolate Russians from the international community. “We will continue to hold Russia to account for its clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of the Helsinki Final Act, including the war crimes committed during its invasion of Ukraine, its suffocation of free media and civil society domestically, and its egregious attempts to undermine democracy across the OSCE region.” While this latest list is one of the largest issued by Russia, Chairman Cardin and many other members of the Helsinki Commission had previously been barred from traveling to Russia.
Chairman Cardin, Colleagues Introduce Resolution Calling for Release of Russian Opposition Leader Vladimir Kara-MurzaMonday, May 16, 2022
WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and colleagues introduced a resolution Monday honoring Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza and his work for “freedom, democracy and human rights for the people of the Russian Federation.” Kara-Murza was detained in Moscow outside of his home one month ago, just days after testifying before the Helsinki Commission. The resolution calls for his release and urges calls for the U.S. Government to support the cause of democracy and human rights in Russia. Sens. Marco Rubio (FL), Dick Durbin (IL), Jim Risch (ID), Bob Menendez (NJ), Roger Wicker (MS), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Dan Sullivan (AK) and Chuck Grassley (IA) also are original cosponsors. “Vladimir Kara-Murza is a genuine hero, speaking truth to power in Russia, and mobilizing the world to support the Russian people,” said Chairman Cardin, who also is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Without his leadership, several countries in Europe would not have enacted their versions of the U.S. Global Magnitsky laws that have broadened the impact of our own sanctions program. We call for his immediate release form unjust imprisonment in Russia.” Last week, Chairman Cardin led a bipartisan letter calling on the Biden administration to sanction publicly “every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza.” The full text of the resolution follows. It is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. Calling for the immediate release of Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was unjustly detained on April 11, 2022. Whereas Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza (referred to in this preamble as “Mr. Kara-Murza”) has tirelessly worked for decades to advance the cause of freedom, democracy, and human rights for the people of the Russian Federation; Whereas, in retaliation for his advocacy, two attempts have been made on Mr. Kara-Murza’s life, as— (1) on May 26, 2015, Mr. Kara-Murza fell ill with symptoms indicative of poisoning and was hospitalized; and (2) on February 2, 2017, he fell ill with similar symptoms and was placed in a medically induced coma; Whereas independent investigations conducted by Bellingcat, the Insider, and Der Spiegel found that the same unit of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation responsible for poisoning Mr. Kara-Murza was responsible for poisoning Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and activists Timur Kuashev, Ruslan Magomedragimov, and Nikita Isayev; Whereas, on February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin launched another unprovoked, unjustified, and illegal invasion into Ukraine in contravention of the obligations freely undertaken by the Russian Federation to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the Minsk protocols of 2014 and 2015, and international law; Whereas, on March 5, 2022, Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing the distribution of truthful statements about the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and mandating up to 15 years in prison for such offenses; Whereas, since February 24, 2022, Mr. Kara-Murza has used his voice and platform to join more than 15,000 citizens of the Russian Federation in peacefully protesting the war against Ukraine and millions more who silently oppose the war; Whereas, on April 11, 2022, five police officers arrested Mr. Kara-Murza in front of his home and denied his right to an attorney, and the next day Mr. Kara-Murza was sentenced to 15 days in prison for disobeying a police order; Whereas, on April 22, 2022, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation charged Mr. Kara-Murza with violations under the law signed on March 5, 2022, for his fact-based statements condemning the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation; Whereas Mr. Kara-Murza was then placed into pretrial detention and ordered to be held until at least June 12, 2022; and Whereas, if convicted of those charges, Mr. Kara-Murza faces detention in a penitentiary system that human rights nongovernmental organizations have criticized for widespread torture, ill-treatment, and suspicious deaths of prisoners: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate— (1) condemns the unjust detention and indicting of Russian opposition leader Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza, who has courageously stood up to oppression in the Russian Federation; (2) expresses solidarity with Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza, his family, and all individuals in the Russian Federation imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and belief; (3) urges the United States Government and other allied governments to work to secure the immediate release of Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny, and other citizens of the Russian Federation imprisoned for opposing the regime of Vladimir Putin and the war against Ukraine; and (4) calls on the President to increase support provided by the United States Government for those advocating for democracy and independent media in the Russian Federation, which Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza has worked to advance.
Arrest and Detention of Vladimir Kara-MurzaThursday, May 12, 2022
Mr. President, one month ago, Russian authorities arrested Vladimir Kara-Murza, a tireless advocate for a democratic Russia and longtime Putin critic, on the street near his apartment in Moscow. While he was in detention for a fabricated administrative violation, they charged him further with ‘‘spreading deliberately false information’’ about the armed forces of Russia, which was criminalized under a Russian law passed after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He is currently in pretrial detention and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Vladimir is a friend and frequent visitor to the offices of many Members of Congress, myself included. His wife and children live in Virginia, and he splits his time between the United States and Russia, where he was born and raised. Vladimir has a special relationship with the Helsinki Commission and a keen interest in using parliamentary diplomacy to rally other nations against the Putin regime’s undemocratic and violent policies, particularly the war in Ukraine. Vladimir was instrumental in the development and passage of the Magnitsky Act. In fact, a number of colleagues and I recently sent a letter to President Biden urging that the administration impose Magnitsky Act sanctions on every Russian official and associate involved in Vladimir’s false arrest and unjust detention. That Vladimir continues to return to Russia after multiple poisonings, arrests, and other tribulations is a testament to his profound courage and dedication to his fellow citizens. He feels that he cannot, in good conscience, call on Russians to risk their freedom and lives to resist the evils and complacency of Putin’s Russia if he is comfortably out of harm’s way himself. Two weeks before his arrest, Vladimir testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing on propaganda and censorship in Russia, where he warned that speaking out against the war in Ukraine is now grounds for prosecution in Russia, yet he refused to be silent. Though now deprived of his physical freedom and in grave danger, Vladimir’s spirit is unbroken; he is unafraid; and he continues to believe that Russia will one day become a democratic, European state. He sees the Ukraine war as the last desperate gasp of Putinism, the beginning of the end. In our many meetings over the years, Vladimir has always reminded us of the need to remember prisoners of conscience and speak their names. As Vladimir now ranks among these hundreds in Russia, and even more throughout the rest of the world, we will remember him. I call upon my colleagues to do the same; there is hope and power in not being forgotten. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the letter to President Biden that I referred to a moment ago be printed in the RECORD. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows: MAY 5, 2022. President JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR., The White House, Washington, DC. DEAR PRESIDENT BIDEN: We urge you to name and sanction every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free. We also urge you to examine whether to sanction those involved in the persecution and imprisonment of other Russian political prisoners. Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for decades for democracy in Russia and a prosperous future for his country. For this, the regime in Russia has poisoned him twice. On April 11, while in Russia, KaraMurza called this regime ‘‘a regime of murderers.’’ He was then arrested, and now faces trumped up charges that may result in years of unjust imprisonment. Kara-Murza was the key Russian activist behind the passage of the Magnitsky Act and its adoption by our allies. The late Senator John McCain called him ‘‘one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the passage of the Magnitsky Act.’’ Kara-Murza himself, like his mentor Boris Nemtsov before him, has called the Magnitsky Act the most ‘‘pro-Russian law passed in the United States in the history of our countries.’’ Nemtsov was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The Magnitsky Act is the appropriate tool to sanction those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza. We ask that you coordinate with our allies to sanction these individuals at the same time. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia now all have Magnitsky sanctions laws of their own. As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. KaraMurza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work. Sincerely, Ben Cardin, Jeanne Shaheen, Roger Wicker, Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senators. Steve Cohen, Gerald Connolly, Brian Fitzpatrick, Richard Hudson, Marcy Kaptur, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer, Gwen Moore, Katie Porter, Abigail Spanberger, Joe Wilson, John Curtis, Ruben Gallego, Sheila Jackson Lee, Bill Keating, Tom Malinowski, Mike Levin, Burgess Owens, Marı´a Elvira Salazar, Marc Veasey, Members of Congress.
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Swiss Release Some Frozen Russian AssetsThursday, May 12, 2022
The Swiss government on Thursday reported 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.33 billion) worth of Russian assets frozen under sanctions to punish Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a drop from early April as around 3.4 billion francs in provisionally blocked assets were released. The figure marked a decrease from roughly 7.5 billion Swiss francs in funds the government reported frozen on April 7. Government official Erwin Bollinger pointed to fewer funds -- 2.2 billion francs -- newly frozen than those that had been released. read more "We can't freeze funds if we do not have sufficient grounds," Bollinger, a senior official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) agency overseeing sanctions, told journalists. Pressure has increased on Switzerland -- a popular destination for Moscow's elite and a holding place for Russian wealth -- to more quickly identify and freeze assets of hundreds of sanctioned Russians. read more The U.S. Helsinki Commission, a government-funded independent commission which looks at security, cooperation and human rights issues in Europe, in early May called Switzerland "a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies", who the commission said used "Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes". The Swiss government rejected the accusations "in the strongest possible terms", while Swiss President Ignazio Cassis had requested the U.S. government "correct this misleading impression immediately" during a telephone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Swiss banks hold up to $213 billion of Russian wealth, Switzerland's bank lobby estimates, with its two largest lenders UBS (UBSG.S) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) each holding tens of billions of francs for wealthy Russian clients. read more Credit Suisse alone froze some 10.4 billion Swiss francs of that money through March under sanctions imposed in connection with the invasion. read more Credit Suisse's reporting did not make clear how much of that money was frozen in Switzerland. While banks and asset managers can provisionally freeze funds, SECO officials on Thursday said funds needed to be released if they could not establish the assets were directly owned or controlled by a sanctioned individual. "The amount of assets frozen is not a measure of how effectively sanctions are being implemented," Bollinger said, adding asset freezes were "by far" not the most important measure in a wide-ranging packet of sanctions. ($1 = 0.9948 Swiss francs)
Helsinki Commissioners Lead Bipartisan Ask for Biden to Sanction Russians Responsible for Jailing Opposition Leader Vladimir Kara-MurzaThursday, May 12, 2022
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), along with Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Commissioners Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) are urging President Joe Biden to publicly sanction “every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza.” The lawmakers made the plea last week in a letter that also was signed by U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission; Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member of the Helsinki Commission; Gerald Connolly (VA-11); John Curtis (UT-03); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Richard Hudson NC-08); Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18); Marcy Kaptur (OH-09); Bill Keating (MA-09); Adam Kinzinger (IL-16); Tom Malinowski (NJ-07); Peter Meijer (MI-03); Mike Levin (CA-49); Gwen Moore (WI-044); Burgess Owens (UT-04); Katie Porter (CA-45); Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27); Abigail Spanberger (VA-07); and Marc Veasey (TX-33). “Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free,” the lawmakers wrote. “As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work.” The full letter is below and can be downloaded at this link. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Biden, We urge you to name and sanction every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free. We also urge you to examine whether to sanction those involved in the persecution and imprisonment of other Russian political prisoners. Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for decades for democracy in Russia and a prosperous future for his country. For this, the regime in Russia has poisoned him twice. On April 11, while in Russia, Kara-Murza called this regime “a regime of murderers.” He was then arrested, and now faces trumped up charges that may result in years of unjust imprisonment. Kara-Murza was the key Russian activist behind the passage of the Magnitsky Act and its adoption by our allies. The late Senator John McCain called him “one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the passage of the Magnitsky Act.” Kara-Murza himself, like his mentor Boris Nemtsov before him, has called the Magnitsky Act the most “pro-Russian law passed in the United States in the history of our countries.” Nemtsov was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The Magnitsky Act is the appropriate tool to sanction those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza. We ask that you coordinate with our allies to sanction these individuals at the same time. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia now all have Magnitsky sanctions laws of their own. As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work. Sincerely,
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Lithuania Becomes First to Designate Russia as Terrorist StateTuesday, May 10, 2022
Lithuania's parliament on Tuesday designated Russia as a terrorist country and recognized its actions in Ukraine as genocide. Why it matters: In doing so, Lithuania has become the first country in the world to designate Russia as a sponsor and executor of terrorism, Ukraine's Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security tweeted. State of play: Lithuania's unicameral parliament adopted the two-pronged resolution unanimously, per a statement posted to its Facebook page. "The war against Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a genocide of the Ukrainian nation carried out by Russia. The Russian Federation is a country that supports and executes terrorism," the statement read. What they're saying: The resolution stated that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Borodyanka and Hostomel, Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) reported. The parliament "recognizes the full-scale armed aggression – war – against Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and its political and military leadership ... as genocide against the Ukrainian people," it added. The resolution also stated that Russia, "whose military forces deliberately and systematically target civilian targets, is a state that supports and perpetrates terrorism." The big picture: Last week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told the U.S. Helsinki Commission that Russia had committed nearly 10,000 war crimes over the course of the war. Russian forces have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. Last month, Sima Bahous, the United Nations executive director for women, told the UN Security Council that reports of human trafficking, rape and other sexual violence in Ukraine were increasing. President Biden said last month that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine.
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Officials Detail Russian War Crimes, but Still Weighing ‘Genocide’ LabelThursday, May 05, 2022
Experts and officials from the U.S. and Ukraine detailed the war crimes being committed by Russia amid its assault on Ukraine at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on May 4, but were less certain about whether those actions constitute genocide. “The State Department has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes across Ukraine based on a careful review of available evidence and information including open source information, but also classified sources,” said U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack. “We saw credible reports of individuals killed execution style with their hands bound, as you mentioned. We saw bodies showing signs of torture, and we heard horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls,” she added. Van Schaack did not weigh in on whether Russia was committing genecide, despite President Biden applying that label during a speech last month. The U.S. has not made an official determination regarding genocide yet. The State Department has funded and deployed a team of prosecutors, investigators and other professionals to help Ukraine investigate the ongoing crimes, Van Schaack added. “This team is advising and supporting the office of the prosecutor general as they collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability,” she said. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office has seen the most atrocities in the Kyiv region, which the Russian military withdrew from last month to focus on its attacks on the country’s eastern regions. “We saw numerous civilians shot right on the street near and in their houses, corpses with clear signs of torture. We also discovered a torture chamber with bodies piled on the ground,” she said. Venediktova noted that her office charged 10 Russian soldiers with war crimes, and was investigating whether the Russian atrocities are genocidal. “This is just a drop in the ocean of cases that we have,” she said. Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who specializes in Central Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, said he believes Russia’s actions fit into the five categories established by the 1948 Genocide Convention. “In my view all five of these actions have been carried out — now, just to be clear: In order for genocide to have taken place, we don’t need all five, we only need one. But I think it is the case, and terrifyingly so, that all five are in fact the case in Russian occupied Ukraine,” Snyder said at the hearing. The five genecidal acts in the 1948 convention are attempting to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including killing members of the group; imposing measures to prevent births from the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm; creating conditions that could bring the destruction of the group; and transferring children by force to another group. Snyder said Russia has been forcibly moving Ukrainian children to Russia. “This one is often overlooked, but I think it is quite important. More than 1 million people, according to Russian data, have been deported from Ukraine to Russia and among that million we’re talking about well over 100,000 children and those children in Russia are being deprived of their nationality,” Snyder said. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belief that Ukraine does not exist is “pre-genocidal”, Synder argued. “When Mr. Putin says, as he had said repeatedly, that there is no Ukranian state or no Ukranian nation, scholars of genocide would recognize that as pre-genocidal language. That is when you say a group doesn’t exist, what you’re doing is preparing for its destruction,” he said.
Russia's Swiss EnablersThursday, May 05, 2022
Long known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats to stash their plunder, Switzerland is a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies. After looting Russia, Putin and his oligarchs use Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes. Close relations between Swiss and Russian authorities have had a corrupting influence on law enforcement personnel in Switzerland and have led to the resignation of numerous officials, including the head prosecutor of Switzerland. A recent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation found that Credit Suisse catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors, and identified problematic accounts holding more than $8 billion in assets. According to the Financial Times, Credit Suisse also asked investors to destroy documents linked to yacht loans made to oligarchs and tycoons. This briefing examined the relationship between Switzerland and Russia in light of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Panelists discussed how a compromised Switzerland affects U.S. national security and whether the United States should rethink its strategic bilateral relationship with Switzerland. Related Information Panelist Biographies How the Swiss Law Enforcement Capitulated to the Russians in the Magnitsky Case - Bill Browder
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Ukraine's prosecutor general testified about alleged Russian war crimes at U.S. Helsinki Commission hearingThursday, May 05, 2022
Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova testified at the hearings of the Helsinki Commission on alleged war crimes of Russia in Ukraine, Venediktova said in a Facebook statement on Thursday. "The Helsinki Commission of the US Congress held a hearing on Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. I testified at the hearings about the horrific atrocities committed by the Russian army on our land: the deliberate bombing of civilian objects, killings and torture, the use of rape as a weapon," Venediktova said. The Helsinki Commission is a US government commission that "promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries," according to its website. Commissioners include US Senate, House of Representatives and executive branch members. The Ukrainian prosecutor general claimed that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes in 70 days of war. She added that the unblocking of Mariupol and the end of the occupation of territories would open even more horrific cases for Ukraine to investigate. She said that "the red lining at the hearings were signs of genocide of the Ukrainian people and the prosecution of the main serial war criminal of the 21st century." "The deportation of our children in order to erase their identity and bring them up as Russians is a direct proof of the plan to destroy Ukraine. The overriding task of the world community is to develop an effective international mechanism of justice and responsibility for Russia's crimes in Ukraine, which will become a tool now and a safeguard for the future," Venediktova said. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko has claimed that Russian forces deported almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic. Russia also said that it has "evacuated" over one million people to Russian territory since Feb. 24. There is no way to verify the Russian data on evacuations. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that thousands of citizens are being deported to Russia forcibly.
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Swiss Attacked for Going Easy on Seizing Russian BillionsThursday, May 05, 2022
The $7.6 billion in Russian assets seized to date by Swiss authorities is “insulting,” outspoken Kremlin critic Bill Browder said at briefing on Russian money in Switzerland. It’s “a lot of money in absolute terms but Switzerland is one of the main destinations for dirty Russian money,” said Browder. Given the Swiss Bankers Association has said there’s as much as 150 to 200 billion Swiss francs ($202 billion) in Russian assets in the country’s banks “I would almost say it’s slightly insulting,” he said. Browder, who has also highlighted what he perceives to be Swiss prosecutors’ soft approach to investigating Russian financial crime, called on the U.S. to review its cooperation framework with its Swiss counterparts, during the hearing organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. “Based on my experience, it would lead me to believe the Swiss are knowingly turning their head the other way when it comes to some of the other oligarchs,” said Browder. The Swiss government said a month ago it had blocked 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($8 billion) in Russian assets in the country to date, as it issues sanctions that mirror those imposed by the European Union on those seen as close to Vladimir Putin. That figure represented a jump of 30% from their previous tally two weeks earlier and Swiss officials say the number will continue to rise as more assets hidden behind shell companies or in the names of associated are painstakingly uncovered. Switzerland surprised the world in early March by departing from its tradition of neutrality and saying it would fully embrace the European Union measures against Russia. But critics including Browder contend that the country needs to go much further. Read more: Swiss Hunt for Russian Wealth Criticized Despite $6 Billion Haul Erwin Bolliger, the chief of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs which is enforcing the sanctions, has tried to explain the gap by pointing out that are plenty of legitimately-held Russian investments in Switzerland. “There is merit in Bill’s suggestion to review the law enforcement relations between the U.S. and Switzerland,” said Mark Pieth, a law professor at the University of Basel and corruption expert, said at the hearing. Up until now, Switzerland’s approach to clamping down on dirty Russian money in the country has shown a “lack of courage,” Pieth said.
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Jewish Democratic Lawmakers Unite in Condemnation of Lavrov's Hitler RemarkWednesday, May 04, 2022
All 25 Jewish Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday issued a rare but sharp joint condemnation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over his comments comparing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Adolf Hitler. "The blatant antisemitism in recent comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is appalling but sadly not surprising. Lavrov, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian regime are doing everything they can to divert attention from their unprovoked, unlawful invasion of Ukraine and the failings of their military in the face of a heroic Ukrainian response," 24 of the 25 Jewish lawmakers said in a joint statement after the Russian foreign minister said that Hitler also 'had Jewish blood', referring to Zelenskyy's Jewish origins, adding that "the wise Jewish people said that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews." "Defaulting to antisemitic tropes, including blaming the Jews for the Holocaust and using the Holocaust to cover their own war crimes, reflects the gutless depravity of the Russian regime," they continued, adding that "Lavrov’s remarks on Italian TV were an affront to the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, the survivors of the Holocaust, their families and the entire world Jewish community.” Rep. Steve Cohen, who co-chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission that monitors human rights and international cooperation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, issued his own statement, where he decried Lavrov's "stooping to the basest antisemitism." The Tennessee Democrat charged that Lavrov and Russia are "clearly disconnected from reality, morality, humanity and sensitivity," adding that "this level of depravity is consistent with the reprehensible, repugnant and reptilian conduct of Putin's government." The statement is the second such rare showing of joint unity amongst the Jewish House Democrats, who rest across the political spectrum, in the past two months. Their comments follow senior Israeli officials, leading U.S. officials and Jewish leaders offering their own rejection of Lavrov's comments. Russia has since doubled down, with its foreign ministry accusing Israel of supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine
Russian War Crimes in UkraineWednesday, May 04, 2022
Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.” The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing discussed the findings of the OSCE report, examined evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyzed paths to bring perpetrators to justice. Related Information Witness Biographies
Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Lavrov’s Antisemitic CommentsTuesday, May 03, 2022
WASHINGTON—In response to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent antisemitic comments regarding Ukraine’s president and the people of Ukraine more generally, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “In a despicable attempt to justify Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, including well-documented indiscriminate murders of civilians, including children; torture; and rape of women, children and also men, Lavrov stooped to the basest antisemitism by claiming that Hitler had Jewish heritage and President Zelensky, although Jewish, can still be a Nazi and Ukraine a Nazi state. “By outrageously restating the false and offensive tropes of Holocaust denial and claiming that Jews are the worst antisemites—all while Russian forces commit genocide against the Ukrainian people at the behest of Vladimir Putin—Lavrov and the state he represents show that they are clearly disconnected from reality, morality, humanity, and sensitivity, and that they have no problem embracing the very ideology they claim to rebuke so long as it serves their propaganda. “Comparing President Zelensky to Hitler should be shocking. Unfortunately, this level of depravity is consistent with the reprehensible, repugnant, and reptilian conduct of Putin’s government. Such comments are no longer surprising as we witness Putin’s bloody attempt to destroy the people of Ukraine.” Co-Chairman Cohen, in his capacity as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), along with other Helsinki Commission leaders, recently urged the OSCE PA to adopt a declaration by the parliament of Ukraine that recognizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide.
Helsinki Commission Regrets Closure of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to UkraineMonday, May 02, 2022
WASHINGTON—On April 28, the OSCE announced that Russia had definitively forced the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, following its veto of the mission’s mandated activities as of April 1. In light of this announcement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Moscow’s choice to force the closure of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is only its latest offense against the rules-based international order. The brave monitors and staff who served the mission, in place since 2014, did exactly what they were supposed to do. Despite continual harassment and under constant threat, they reported objectively on ceasefire violations, informing the international community about the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The monitors’ clear and continuous reporting allowed the world to draw its own conclusions about the roots of Russia’s aggression. Moscow’s move to force the mission to close only underlines its desire to hide this ugly fact. “As we commend the service of these brave monitors and condemn Russia’s obstruction, we renew our call on Moscow to immediately release all Ukrainian SMM staff members who have been detained in occupied parts of Ukraine. “We also mourn the recent loss of Maryna Fenina, a Ukrainian national serving with the SMM who was killed by Russia’s shelling in Kharkiv on March 1, and we will never forget American paramedic Joseph Stone, who was killed while serving in support of the mission when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine on April 23, 2017.” The SMM was established in 2014 as an unarmed, civilian mission and served as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. It operated under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Swiss Enabling of Russian OligarchsFriday, April 29, 2022
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online briefing: RUSSIA’S SWISS ENABLERS Thursday, May 5, 2022 10:00 a.m. Register: https://ushr.webex.com/ushr/j.php?RGID=r72f85e0c40a09b609b328a9481f54063 Long known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats to stash their plunder, Switzerland is a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies. After looting Russia, Putin and his oligarchs use Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes. Close relations between Swiss and Russian authorities have had a corrupting influence on law enforcement personnel in Switzerland and have led to the resignation of numerous officials, including the head prosecutor of Switzerland. A recent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation found that Credit Suisse catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors, and identified problematic accounts holding more than $8 billion in assets. According to the Financial Times, Credit Suisse also asked investors to destroy documents linked to yacht loans made to oligarchs and tycoons. This briefing will examine the relationship between Switzerland and Russia in light of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Panelists will discuss how a compromised Switzerland affects U.S. national security and whether the United States should rethink its strategic bilateral relationship with Switzerland. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Bill Browder, Head, Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign Miranda Patrucic, Deputy Editor in Chief, Regional and Central Asia, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project Mark Pieth, President of the Board, Basel Institute on Governance
Russian War Crimes in Ukraine to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission HearingThursday, April 28, 2022
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RUSSIAN WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE Wednesday, May 4, 2022 NEW TIME: 2:00 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.” The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing will discuss the findings of the OSCE report, examine evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyze paths to bring perpetrators to justice. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: OSCE Experts Wolfgang Benedek, Professor of International Law (ret.), University of Graz Veronika Bílková, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague Marco Sassoli, Professor of International Law, University of Geneva Panel 2 Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University; Permanent Fellow, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General, Ukraine
Following in the Footsteps of Tsar Nicholas IIWednesday, April 27, 2022
As Vladimir Putin attempts to turn back the clock to the Russian Empire of the pre-Soviet era, he also adopts a tool of political manipulation used in Imperial Russia—fostering violent extremist organizations as a means to a political end. Tsar Nicholas II used this technique with terrorist organizations like the Union of the Russian People and the Black Hundreds, and Putin follows his example today with the Russian Imperial Movement and Imperial Legion. The Russian Imperial Movement Putin advances his political agenda by allowing the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)—a white supremacist extremist organization based in St. Petersburg—to freely exist and operate in Russia and beyond. RIM holds ultranationalist and monarchist views and believes in two pillars of authority: the political power of the tsar and the spiritual power of the Russian Orthodox Church. The U.S. State Department labeled RIM a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity in April of 2020, making them the first white supremacist extremist organization to receive the title. RIM received the designation due, in part, to their paramilitary training course, Partizan. The course—ostensibly teaching survival skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat—functions as RIM’s citizen-to-terrorist pipeline. Attendees have gone on to join RIM’s paramilitary unit, the Imperial Legion, and fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. And Russians are not the only ones enrolling. In 2016, two members of Sweden’s largest neo-Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement, bombed a café and a migrant center and attempted to bomb a refugee center in Gothenburg, Sweden. The subsequent investigation discovered that the bombers were trained at Partizan. RIM has attempted to broaden its network beyond Europe. American neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, former head of the Traditionalist Workers Party, met with RIM representatives, and RIM offered paramilitary training to organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. There are also reports that members of the Imperial Legion fought in conflict areas in Syria and Libya. The Russian Imperial Movement is vocally anti-Putin, decrying him and his regime. Despite this criticism and RIM’s monarchist beliefs, Putin has been lenient toward the group and allows it to operate as long as its attention remains turned away from domestic politics. Though reinstatement of a tsar remains a foundational pillar of RIM’s doctrine, it is not their main selling point. Dr. Anna Kruglova, a lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the University of Salford, finds RIM’s large web following surprising “since the group has a relatively narrow agenda—monarchist ideas are not particularly popular in Russia as only 8 percent of Russian people would want monarchy restored, according to one poll.” RIM’s appeal for potential members and Putin himself lies in its vicious ethno-nationalism. RIM demands that Russia maintain influence over all territories where ethnic Russians reside, particularly in Ukraine. For instance, Partizan-trained Russians fought alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in 2014 as members of the Imperial Legion. In the words of Denis Gariev, an instructor at Partizan, “We see Ukrainian-ness as rabies. A person is sick. Either quarantine, liquidation, or he’ll infect everyone.” Putin also values RIM as a tool to sow discord in the West. RIM supports and collaborates with other white supremacist extremist organizations, even in the United States, and trains individuals like the Swedish NRM bombers. RIM is convenient for Putin: it poses no real threat as a monarchist organization yet benefits his attempts to colonize Ukraine and destabilize the West. The Union of the Russian People The Union of the Russian People (Soyuz russkovo naroda, or SRN) was a right-wing, fanatically anti-Semitic political movement active in the 1900s. They came to prominence in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war. After the Russian Empire’s devastating defeat, there was such discontent and domestic unrest that strikes and mutinies flooded the empire, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to enact constitutional reforms. This moment, known as the 1905 Revolution, left the Russian Empire shaken and greatly polarized. Fears that the imperial system would collapse led to a rise in reactionary extreme right-wing ideologies and groups, one of which was SRN. Members of SRN and its paramilitary branch, the Black Hundred, were fervent monarchists and bore the colors of the Romanov family—the reigning imperial dynasty in Russia from 1613 to 1917—as their insignia. They also had deep ideological connections with the Russian Orthodox Church and identified Jews as the source of all evil in Russia. From 1905 to 1906, the Black Hundred carried out relentless pogroms, killing hundreds of Jews across the Russian Empire. The ruling class at the time held mixed opinions on SRN, ranging from hesitance to fanaticism. Lower-ranking officials viewed the Black Hundred’s pogroms as a convenient way to keep Jewish and ethnic minority populations in their place. The tsar called them a “shining example of justice and order to all men.” SRN was a convenient political tool for the tsar. Tsar Nicholas II believed anti-Semitism united people behind the government, and that Jewish capitalism and Jewish socialism were revolutionary forces that threatened his regime. In this way, SRN and the Black Hundred, while too radical for many members of the Duma and the public, served the tsar’s political interests. Utilizing extremism as a political weapon is not a new tool in Russia’s repertoire. As Putin harkens back to a grand Imperial history and conducts brutal military invasions into former Soviet states, like Ukraine, and political invasions of others, like Belarus, he demands comparison to the power-grasping techniques of the past. As Tsar Nicholas II’s grip on power loosened with civil unrest in the Russian Empire, he supported extremism to preserve his regime. Putin repeats this pattern today as he lets the Russian Imperial Movement and the Imperial Legion train neo-Nazis to wreak havoc and terror in the West.
Helsinki Commission Leaders Condemn Detention of OSCE Officials by Russian-Led Forces in UkraineTuesday, April 26, 2022
WASHINGTON—Following the detention of four Ukrainian nationals serving as members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine who reportedly were accused of illegal activities including treason and espionage, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The targeting and detention of OSCE officials by Russian-controlled forces is utterly unacceptable. Those detained must be released immediately. We will hold Russian officials responsible for any mistreatment they suffer.” On April 24, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that four Ukrainian staff members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had been detained and held “for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff.” The SMM had served a critical function as the eyes and ears of the international community in the conflict zone since 2014, until a Russian veto forced its mandated activities to cease on April 1. Since then, Ukrainian mission members had been carrying out minimum necessary administrative tasks focused on efforts to ensure the safety and security of its mission members, assets, and premises throughout Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas.
Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, I am appreciative that I am able to join today with my friend and colleague, Senator Cardin. I appreciate his joining me today to discuss an issue of great concern to both of us and to human rights advocates around the world. That is the ongoing trial in Russia of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev. In June of last year, Senator Cardin joined me in introducing a resolution urging the Senate to recognize that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev have been denied basic due process rights under international law for political reasons. It is particularly appropriate, I think, that Senator Cardin and I be talking about this this afternoon because in a matter of days, Russian President Medvedev will be coming to the United States and meeting with President Obama. I think this would be a very appropriate topic for the President of the United States to bring up to the President of the Russian Federation.
I can think of no greater statement that the Russian President could make on behalf of the rule of law and a movement back toward human rights in Russia than to end the show trial of these two individuals and dismiss the false charges against them.
Since his conviction, Khodorkovsky has spent his time either in a Siberian prison camp or a Moscow jail cell. Currently, he spends his days sitting in a glass cage enduring a daily farce of a trial that could send him back to Siberia for more than 20 years. Amazingly, Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains unbroken.
I think it appropriate that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have committed to resetting relations with the country. I support them in this worthwhile goal. Clearly, our foreign relations can always stand to be improved. I support strengthening our relations, particularly with Russia. However, this strengthening must not be at the expense of progress on the issue of the rule of law and an independent judiciary. The United States cannot publicly extol the virtues of rule of law and an independent judiciary and at the same time turn a blind eye to what has happened to Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.
I urge President Obama and Secretary Clinton to put the release of these two men high on the agenda as we continue to engage with Russia, and high on the agenda for President Medvedev's upcoming meeting here in Washington, DC.
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Wicker for taking this time for this colloquy. He has been a real champion on human rights issues and on bringing out the importance for Russia to move forward on a path of democracy and respect for human rights. He has done that as a Senator from Mississippi. He has done that as a very active member of the Helsinki Commission. I have the honor of chairing the Helsinki Commission, which I think is best known because of its fight on behalf of human rights for the people, particularly in those countries that were behind the Iron Curtain—particularly before the fall of the Soviet Union, where we were regularly being the voices for those who could not have their voices heard otherwise because of the oppressive policies of the former Soviet Union.
So in the 1990s, there was great euphoria that at the end of the Cold War, the reforms that were talked about in Russia—indeed, the privatization of many of its industries—would at last bring the types of rights to the people of Russia that they so needed. But, unfortunately, there was a mixed message, and in the 1990s, I think contrary to Western popular opinion at the time, Russia did not move forward as aggressively as we wanted with freedom and democracy.
It is interesting that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was part of the Communist elite, led the country into privatization in the right way. He took a company, Yukos Oil Company, and truly made it transparent and truly developed a model of corporate governance that was unheard of at the time in the former Soviet Union and unheard of in the Russian Federation, and he used that as a poster child to try to help the people of Russia. He started making contributions to the general welfare of the country, which is what we would like to see from the business and corporate community. He did that to help his own people. But he ran into trouble in the midst of the shadowy and violent Russian market, and his problems were encouraged many times by the same people who we thought were leading the reform within the Russian Federation.
By 1998, with the collapse of the ruble, the people of Russia were disillusioned; they found their prosperity was only temporary. The cost of imports was going up. The spirit of nationalism, this nationalistic obsession, became much more prominent within the Russian Federation, and the move toward privatization lost a lot of its luster.
The rise of Mr. Putin to power also established what was known as vertical power, and independent companies were inconsistent with that model he was developing to try to keep control of his own country. Therefore, what he did under this new rubric was to encourage nationalization spirit, to the detriment of independent companies and to the detriment of the development of opposition opportunity, democracy, and personal freedom. We started to see the decline of the open and free and independent media.
All of this came about, and a highly successful and independent company such as Yukos under the leadership of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was inconsistent with what Mr. Putin was trying to do in Russia. As a result, there was a demise of the company, and the trials ensued. My friend Senator Wicker talked about what happened in the trial. It was a miscarriage of justice. It was wrong. We have expressed our views on it. And it is still continuing to this day. I thank Senator Wicker for continuing to bring this to the Members' attention and I hope to the people of Russia so they will understand there is still time to correct this miscarriage of justice.
Mr. WICKER. I thank my colleague.
I will go on to point out that things started coming to a head when Mr. Khodorkovsky started speaking out against the Russian Government, led by President Putin, and his company that he headed, Yukos, came into the sights of the Russian Federation.
Mr. Khodorkovsky visited the United States less than a week before his arrest. He was in Washington speaking to Congressman Tom Lantos, the late Tom Lantos, a venerated human rights advocate from the House of Representatives, who had seen violations of human rights in his own rights. Mr. Khodorkovsky told Congressman Lantos that he had committed no crimes but he would not be driven into exile. He said: "I would prefer to be a political prisoner rather than a political immigrant." And, of course, a political prisoner is what he is now.
Shortly after his arrest, government officials accused Yukos Oil of failing to pay more than $300 billion in taxes. At the time, Yukos was Russia's largest taxpayer. Yet they were singled out for tax evasion. And PricewaterhouseCoopers had recently audited the books of Yukos, and the government tax office had approved the 2002 to 2003 tax returns just months before this trumped-up case was filed.
The Russian Government took over Yukos, auctioned it off, and essentially renationalized the company, costing American stockholders $7 billion and stockholders all around the country who had believed Russia was liberalizing and becoming part of the market society. A Swiss court has ruled the auction illegal. A Dutch court has ruled the auction illegal. But even more so, they tried these two gentlemen and placed them in prison. Mr. Khodorkovsky apparently had the mistaken impression that he was entitled to freedom of speech, and we discovered that in Russia, at the time of the trial and even today, he was not entitled, in the opinion of the government, to his freedom of speech.
A recent foreign policy magazine called Khodorkovsky the "most prominent prisoner" in Vladimir Putin's Russia and a symbol of the peril of challenging the Kremlin, which is what Mr. Khodorkovsky did.
I would quote a few paragraphs from a recent AP story by Gary Peach about the testimony of a former Prime Minister who actually served during the Putin years:
A former Russian prime minister turned fierce Kremlin critic came to the defense of an imprisoned tycoon on Monday—
This is a May 24 article—
-- telling a Moscow court that prosecutors' new charges of massive crude oil embezzlement are absurd.
What we now find is that when Mr. Khodorkovsky is about to be released from his first sentence, new charges have arisen all of a sudden. After years and years of imprisonment in Siberia, new charges have arisen.
Mikhail Kasyanov, who headed the government in 2000-2004, told the court that the accusations against Khodorkovsky, a former billionaire now serving an eight-year sentence in prison, had no basis in reality.
This is a former Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.
Prosecutors claim that Khodorkovsky, along with his business partner [who is also in prison] embezzled some 350 million tons—or $25 billion worth—of crude oil while they headed the Yukos Oil Company.
That's all the oil Yukos produced over six years, from 1998 to 2003. I consider the accusation absurd.
He said that while Prime Minister, he received regular reports about Russia's oil companies and that Yukos consistently paid its taxes. Kasyanov, who served as Prime Minister during most of President Putin's first term, said that both the current trial and the previous one, which ended with a conviction, were politically motivated. So I would say this is indeed a damning accusation of the current trial going on, even as we speak, in Moscow.
Mr. CARDIN. Senator Wicker has pointed out in I think real detail how the dismantling of the Yukos Oil Company was done illegally under any international law; it was returning to the Soviet days rather than moving forward with democratic reform. As Senator Wicker has pointed out, the personal attack on its founders—imprisoning them on charges that were inconsistent with the direction of the country after the fall of the Soviet Union—was another miscarriage of justice, and it is certainly totally inconsistent with the statements made after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The early Putin years were clearly a return to nationalism in Russia and against what was perceived at that time by the popular Western view that Russia was on a path toward democracy. It just did not happen. And it is clearly a theft of a company's assets by the government and persecution, not prosecution, of the individuals who led the company toward privatization, which was a clear message given by the leaders after the fall of the Soviet Union.
This cannot be just left alone. I understand the individuals involved may have been part of the elite at one time within the former Soviet Union. I understand, in fact, there may have been mixed messages when you have a country that is going through a transition. But clearly what was done here was a violation of their commitments under the Helsinki Commission, under the Helsinki Final Act. It was a violation of Russia's statements about allowing democracy and democratic institutions. It was a violation of Russia's commitments to allow a free market to develop within their own country. All of that was violated by the manner in which they handled Mr. Khodorkovsky as well as his codefendant and the company itself. And it is something we need to continue to point out should never have happened.
The real tragedy here is that this is an ongoing matter. As Senator Wicker pointed out, there is now, we believe, an effort to try him on additional charges even though he has suffered so much. And it is a matter that—particularly with the Russian leadership visiting the United States, with direct meetings between our leaders, between Russia and the United States—I hope can get some attention and a chance for the Russian Federation to correct a miscarriage of justice.
Mr. WICKER. Indeed, the second show trial of Mr. Khodorkovsky has entered its second year. We have celebrated the anniversary of the second trial.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an editorial by the Washington Post dated June 9, 2010, at this point.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
[From the Washington Post, June 9, 2010]
Show Trial: Should Ties to Russia Be Linked to Its Record on Rights?
Russia's government has calculated that it needs better relations with the West to attract more foreign investment and modern technology, according to a paper by its foreign ministry that leaked to the press last month. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has recently made conciliatory gestures to Poland, while President Dmitry Medvedev sealed a nuclear arms treaty with President Obama. At the United Nations, Russia has agreed to join Western powers in supporting new sanctions against Iran.
Moscow's new friendliness, however, hasn't led to any change in its repressive domestic policies. The foreign ministry paper says Russia needs to show itself as a democracy with a market economy to gain Western favor. But Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev have yet to take steps in that direction. There have been no arrests in the more than a dozen outstanding cases of murdered journalists and human rights advocates; a former KGB operative accused by Scotland Yard of assassinating a dissident in London still sits in the Russian parliament.
Perhaps most significantly, the Russian leadership is allowing the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil executive who has become the country's best-known political prisoner, to go forward even though it has become a showcase for the regime's cynicism, corruption and disregard for the rule of law. Mr. Khodorkovsky, who angered Mr. Putin by funding opposition political parties, was arrested in 2003 and convicted on charges of tax evasion. His Yukos oil company, then Russia's largest, was broken up and handed over to state-controlled firms.
A second trial of Mr. Khodorkovsky is nearing its completion in Moscow, nearly a year after it began. Its purpose is transparent: to prevent the prisoner's release when his first sentence expires next year. The new charges are, as Mr. Putin's own former prime minister testified last week, absurd: Mr. Khodorkovsky and an associate, Platon Lebedev, are now accused of embezzling Yukos's oil production, a crime that, had it occurred, would have made their previously alleged crime of tax evasion impossible.
Mr. Khodorkovsky, who acquired his oil empire in the rough and tumble of Russia's transition from communism, is no saint, but neither is he his country's Al Capone, as Mr. Putin has claimed. In fact, he is looking more and more like the prisoners of conscience who have haunted previous Kremlin regimes. In the past several years he has written numerous articles critiquing Russia's corruption and lack of democracy, including one on our op-ed page last month.
Mr. Obama raised the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky last year, and the State Department's most recent human rights report said the trial "raised concerns about due process and the rule of law." But the administration has not let this obvious instance of persecution, or Mr. Putin's overall failure to ease domestic repression, get in the way of its "reset" of relations with Moscow. If the United States and leading European governments would make clear that improvements in human rights are necessary for Moscow to win trade and other economic concessions, there is a chance Mr. Putin would respond. If he does not, Western governments at least would have a clearer understanding of where better relations stand on the list of his true priorities.
Mr. WICKER. The editorial points out that Russia's Government is trying to think of ways to attract more foreign investment, and it juxtaposes this desire for more Western openness and investment with the Khodorkovsky matter and says that this trial has become a showcase for the Russian regime's cynicism, corruption, and disregard for the rule of law.
It goes on to say: The new charges are, as Mr. Putin's own Prime Minister testified last week, absurd. Mr. Khodorkovsky and his associate, Platon Lebedev, are now accused of embezzling Yukos Oil's production—a crime that, had it occurred, would have made their previously alleged crime of tax evasion impossible.
So the cynicism of these charges is that they are inconsistent with each other. Yet, in its brazenness, the Russian Federation Government and its prosecutors proceed with these charges.
The article goes on to say: Mr. Khodorkovsky is looking more and more like a prisoner of conscience who haunted the previous criminal regime.
Mr. Obama raised the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky last year, and the State Department's most recent human rights report said the trial "raised concerns about due process and the rule of law."
I will say they raised concerns.
Let me say in conclusion of my portion—and then I will allow my good friend from Maryland to close—this prosecution and violation of human rights and the rule of law of Lebedev and Khodorkovsky has brought the censure of the European Court of Human Rights that ruled that Mr. Khodorkovsky's rights were violated. A Swiss court has condemned the action of the Russian Federation and ruled it illegal. A Dutch court has said it is illegal. It has been denounced by such publications as Foreign Policy magazine, the Washington Post, a former Prime Minister who actually served under Mr. Putin. It has been denounced in actions and votes by the European Parliament, by other national parliaments, by numerous human rights groups, and by the U.S. State Department.
I submit, for those within the sound of my voice—and I believe there are people on different continents listening to the sound of our voices today—it is time for the Russian President to step forward and put an end to this farce, admit that this trial has no merit in law, and it is time for prosecutors in Moscow to cease and desist on this show trial and begin to repair the reputation of the Russian Federation when it comes to human rights and the rule of law.
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Wicker for bringing out the details of this matter. It has clearly been recognized and condemned by the international community as against international law. It is clearly against the commitments Russia had made when the Soviet Union fell. It is clearly of interest to all of the countries of the world. Originally, when Yukos oil was taken over, investors outside of Russia also lost money. So there has been an illegal taking of assets of a private company which have affected investors throughout the world, including in the United States. It has been offensive to all of us to see imprisoned two individuals who never should have been tried and certainly should not be in prison today. All that is offensive to all of us. But I would think it is most offensive to the Russian people.
The Russian people believed their leaders, when the Soviet Union collapsed, that there would be respect for the rule of law; that there would be an independent judiciary, and their citizens could get a fair trial.
We all know—and the international community has already spoken about this—that Mikhail Khodorkovsky did not get a fair trial. So the commitment the Russian leaders made to its own people of an independent and fair judiciary has not been adhered to. This is not an isolated example within Russia. We know investigative reporters routinely are arrested, sometimes arrested with violence against them. We know opposition parties have virtually no chance to participate in an open system, denying the people a real democracy. But here with justice, Russia has a chance to do so.
I find it remarkable that Mr. Khodorkovsky's spirits are still strong, as Senator Wicker pointed out. Let me read a recent quote from Mr. Khodorkovsky himself, who is in prison:
“You know, I really do love my country, my Moscow. It seems like one huge apathetic and indifferent anthill, but it's got so much soul. . . . You know, inside I was sure about the people, and they turned out to be even better than I'd thought.”
I think Senator Wicker and I both believe in the Russian people. We believe in the future of Russia. But the future of Russia must be a nation that embraces its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act. It has to be a country that shows compassion for its citizens and shows justice. Russia can do that today by doing what is right for Mr. Khodorkovsky and his codefendant: release them from prison, respect the private rights and human rights of its citizens, and Russia then will be a nation that will truly live up to its commitment to its people to respect human rights and democratic principles.
Again, I thank Senator Wicker for bringing this matter to the attention of our colleagues. It is a matter that can be dealt with, that should be dealt with, and we hope Russia will show justice in the way it handles this matter.
Mr. WICKER. I thank my colleague and yield the floor.