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Symposium Focused on Future of the OSCE
Thursday, November 06, 2008

By Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor

The Embassy of Finland and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University held a half-day symposium on October 15 to discuss the future of the OSCE. The symposium succeeded in laying out clearly the challenges currently facing the 56-state organization. There were, however, more questions than answers when it came to ideas on how to address those challenges. Participants in the symposium included the Secretary of State of Finland, prominent figures from OSCE’s past, academics, representatives of participating States, NGOs, and the Helsinki Commission. Finland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Vienna-based OSCE.

At the outset of the meeting, there was an acknowledgement that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in early August altered the program originally envisioned by the Finnish chairmanship for the OSCE. Other issues raised included open challenges to core OSCE principles, values, and commitments; internal divisions and lack of consensus over what the organization should be doing; implications of a stronger and more active EU; and whether there is waning support for the OSCE in Washington.

Rather than offering prescriptions for overcoming these challenges, many speakers instead underlined the challenges by reflecting their governments’ views of the OSCE. For example, the Russian speaker focused on President Medvedev’s June call for a new European security architecture and the need to reform the OSCE, a longstanding Moscow demand. U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer focused on the importance of implementing OSCE commitments on human rights, and the need for Kazakhstan to implement its Madrid reform promises in advance of its 2010 Chairmanship. The Kazakhstani speaker foreshadowed what could signal – for the U.S. at least – problematic views with serious implications for his country’s chairmanship, including questioning the validity and universal applicability of OSCE standards and commitments as well as raising doubt over the continued need for field missions. OSCE Secretariat representative Paul Fritch laid out frankly the challenges facing the OSCE today, and tried to start a discussion of how to address them.

Early History of the Helsinki Process*

The first panel focused on the history of the Helsinki Process, and featured U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman (ret.), who had been active in the process in the 1980s, and Finnish Ambassador Markuu Reimaa, who recently published a book, Helsinki Catch, covering the negotiations leading up to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Ambassador Kampelman focused on his personal experiences and on the Madrid Meeting of the CSCE (1980-1983). He stressed that the CSCE was at that time the main framework for U.S.-Soviet dialogue and for reinforcing relations with NATO allies. Kampelman acknowledged the key role played by Commission staff throughout the Madrid Meeting. He then claimed to reveal a long-held secret that he had leveraged the Soviet desire to end the Madrid Meeting by securing permission for some 250,000 individuals - mostly Jews - to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to Israel.

Ambassador Reimaa cited the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia as a crucial event that opened the eyes of many in both the West and East. He said that the negotiations leading up to the Helsinki Final Act were successful partly because none of the countries (numbering 35 at the time) expected much to come of the process. He suggested that, within two years, the Soviets were questioning the wisdom of their involvement, but that the Helsinki Process was like “a fish trap”: once in, you could not get out. He stressed the importance of dialogue, noting that CSCE offered the only venue where meaningful talks continued during the frosty first half of the 1980’s.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The second panel focused on the current Finnish Chairmanship of the OSCE, and featured Finnish State Secretary Pertti Torstila and Professor Terrence Hopmann of Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Secretary Torstila said that OSCE’s relevance was proven most recently in connection with the conflict in Georgia, but serious challenges to it exist in today’s world. A consensus-based organization cannot be greater than the sum of its parts, and many OSCE States are weak in their commitment to core principles. Secretary Torstila acknowledged that the state-building begun in the aftermath of the collapse of the U.S.S.R. remains incomplete, and urged that the OSCE be used as a venue for dialogue. In addition, the OSCE must avoid getting dragged down by internal wrangling, as some other International Organizations have done. He related that the CiO believes that the OSCE needs to be more involved in settling conflicts, not just managing them after the fact. Torstila provided a disappointing update on talks on Georgia that had opened and abruptly closed earlier that day in Geneva.

Professor Hopmann said that the OSCE is in deep crisis at this point, arguing that the U.S. and Russia must decide if they believe the OSCE is worthwhile or not. Hopmann went on at length about the weakness of the organization’s conflict prevention capacity and the need to look at the relationship between core principles like self-determination and territorial integrity. He was highly critical of the lack of U.S. support for the organization, quipping that Washington spent more on Iraq in one hour than on the OSCE for an entire year. Beyond dwindling resources, he cited the failure of the U.S. Secretary of State to attend an OSCE Ministerial since Colin Powell in 2003. (Helsinki will serve as the venue for the 2008 OSCE Ministerial in early December.) Hopmann appealed for the next administration to play a more active role in the OSCE.

The third panel focused on the future of the OSCE. It featured Mr. Aleksandr Lukashevich from the Russian Embassy, Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer, Kazakhstani Ambassador at Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev, and Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch.

Mr. Lukashevich gave what appeared to be a scripted presentation of Russian views of the OSCE. He argued that the organization has failed to take the shape of an integrated security architecture that Russia had hoped it would. Instead, each OSCE country pursues its own agenda and geographic splits result. No country should predominate in the OSCE, and there should not be any “spheres of influence” in the organization. He repeated Russian assertions that the OSCE needs legal status, as well as a treaty-based Charter defining its goals adopted at the same time; he insisted that the U.S. fear that a Charter would undermine existing OSCE commitments is unfounded. Notwithstanding the restrictive proposals Moscow has circulated over the past couple of years that would undermine OSCE election observation activities and seriously weaken the role of NGOs in the organization, he rejected the notion that Russia is seeking to weaken existing OSCE institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). He insisted that Russia has a positive agenda in the OSCE and wants to give the organization a “second wind.”

Moreover, Russian President Medvedev has proposed discussion of a treaty on European security that would be legally binding and that would lay out the role and obligations of States for the medium- to long-term. The new treaty should stress that all States are equal and that there should be uniform rules and legally binding security guarantees for all, as well as uniform interpretation and implementation of the treaty. Mr. Lukashevich floated a proposal for an international forum with the participation of all OSCE countries as well as leading International Organizations. He said Russia hopes that the proposal could be reflected in the upcoming Helsinki Ministerial.

Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer stressed the importance of implementation of existing OSCE human rights commitments. He said that the U.S. would oppose any efforts to dilute OSCE standards or undermine the organization’s effectiveness, including its election observation activities undertaken by ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly. Kramer pointed out that most of the criticism of the OSCE seems to be coming from those States where fundamental freedoms are facing the most challenges. He then turned to Kazakhstan and the reform program it committed to late last year in Madrid concerning its 2010 Chairmanship. Kramer said that the U.S. is prepared to help Kazakhstan make progress on its Madrid commitments. However, currently, human rights defenders, NGOs, and independent media in Kazakhstan are threatened. Concerning Georgia, he stressed that the Russian Federation is responsible for protecting persons remaining in South Ossetia and for maintaining public order in all areas effectively under Russian control. Kramer insisted that OSCE monitors must have unimpeded access to all areas of Georgia, including South Ossetia.

Kazakhstani Ambassador-at-Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev’s statement raised serious questions about how his country might run its 2010 Chairmanship. Tazhiev stressed that there should be no blind adherence to OSCE commitments; rather, cultural differences and national particularities must be taken into account. Echoing long-standing Russian claims, he said the three dimensions of the OSCE – political/military, economic and environmental, and human - are imbalanced. There is too much emphasis on the human dimension and that should be fixed. Tazhiev reiterated Kazakhstan’s promise made in Madrid not to support efforts to weaken ODIHR or election observation, but at the same time endorsed Russian proposals concerning “strengthening” OSCE election observation. (Note: Russian initiatives would eviscerate election observation, for example by giving any country a virtual veto over every aspect of the process, including the evaluation of the conduct of the election.) He said that the effectiveness of OSCE field missions is in doubt, and many host countries – particularly those in Central Asia – feel their views are not being taken into account and are therefore questioning the further need for those missions. Finally, he noted that Kazakhstan supports Russia’s view that the OSCE needs a convention giving it legal personality as well as a Charter, adopted simultaneously.

The Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch, gave a thoughtful overview of where the OSCE currently stands, and asked a series of questions (though not providing answers). In the 1990s, there was a unique and historic consensus within the organization. While some States view that period as the Golden Age, others view it as a time of humiliation. Consensus is now wearing thin in all three dimensions, and it is not in style to be a “country in transition.” The situation has changed dramatically, particularly with developments in Kosovo and Georgia. There is now open military confrontation in the OSCE region, between Georgia and Russia. There are also diverging views on energy and water resources which could lead to future conflicts. It is the first time that participating States are openly challenging the validity of OSCE commitments, and universal interpretation of them is yielding to local variations. At the same time that cohesion within the OSCE is eroding, external challenges are growing in scope and complexity. Relations with other International Organizations are changing as NATO expands and the EU becomes active in more areas.

Fritch then threw out several good questions. How can the OSCE promote implementation of its values when some States openly challenge them (despite the fact that they were adopted on the basis of consensus)? Do OSCE mechanisms to deal with political military challenges need to be updated? What role can the OSCE play outside its geographical area? Will the OSCE take up Medvedev and Sarkozy’s proposal for a new security architecture and an OSCE summit in 2009? Now that the EU makes up half of the OSCE participating States, how will the two organizations divide their activities?

In the discussion that followed, U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley rejected Terry Hopmann’s characterization of waning U.S. interest in the OSCE. In response to Russia, she stressed that actions speak louder than words. While recent Russian words have been lovely, corresponding actions have not. Picking up on the issue of legal personality raised by several speakers, she said that as soon as the U.S. had compromised and agreed to a limited legal convention, Russia reneged on the deal and began demanding that a treaty-based Charter be adopted at the same time. She asserted that Russia constantly moves the goalposts, and that is not constructive. The OSCE should look to the future and expand its activities, perhaps by bringing Libya, Syria, and Lebanon in as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Spencer Oliver, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and former Commission Chief of Staff, drew on his extensive experience in the Helsinki Process dating back to the mid-1970s. He stressed the critical precedents set by the U.S. at the Belgrade Follow-up Meeting (1977-78) of naming names and being specific about human rights violations. Oliver credited Arthur J. Goldberg for his leadership of the U.S. delegation at Belgrade and commended the role played by Griffin Bell, appointed by President Carter to head the U.S. delegation at the opening of the Madrid Follow-up Meeting in 1980. Max Kampelman served under Bell until Ronald Reagan appointed him to lead the delegation through the end of the Madrid Meeting (1983). Oliver pointed out the irony that the OSCE, an organization promoting transparency, often operates behind closed doors.

*encompassing the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and its successor since January 1, 1995, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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Switzerland’s banks have moved dramatically from the freewheeling approach of previous years, when there was “a run on Russia”, says Thomas Borer, a former leading Swiss diplomat turned consultant, who has worked with prominent Russian clients. He now supports Switzerland’s sanctions policy. “Being militarily neutral does not mean being economically indifferent,” he says. But he argues that Swiss banking culture is still very different from elsewhere in the west. Even the biggest banks, he says, were clinging to relationships with Russian clients as the Ukraine crisis unfolded. The Financial Times revealed that, as late as March, Credit Suisse was asking investors to destroy documents that might expose Russian oligarchs it had done business with to legal risks. One senior relationship manager at a Zurich-based bank agrees. Even as sanctions came in, he says, the dominant approach was to ask, “how can we make this work for the client?” rather than “how do we do this for the government?”. But he defends the approach, saying: “Doing everything you can for your client is a Swiss commitment to excellence. If I was a watchmaker I would want to make the best watches with many complications. And if I was a policeman, then maybe I would want to be the best at catching Russian criminals. But I’m a banker.” There is still legal ambiguity in Switzerland over whether sanctions apply to family members and friends of listed individuals. This has provided a loophole bankers have helped at-risk clients to actively exploit in recent years. Swiss banks have seen “billions” of assets transferred to the names of spouses and children of Russian clients, in a trend that accelerated in the run-up to the war, says one banker. One bank chief executive admitted recently to the FT that there were many “grey areas” in applying sanctions. Part of the problem, he said, was that bank legal departments were struggling to obtain clarity from Bern on which asset transfers were deemed to be evading sanctions and which were not. Many who have been in the industry for a long time decry the new rules they must follow around taking new clients and being certain of the source of their wealth. “Know your customer used to mean just that: do you know the person? Now it is supposed to mean: do you know every little thing about their financial and private life?” says one Geneva-based banker. Many Russians themselves knew the banks were no longer safe havens, particularly since 2018 when Swiss banks began making significant concessions to information sharing on client accounts with other governments. Swiss residency did not protect billionaire Viktor Vekselberg in 2018, for example, when he was targeted by US sanctions; both Credit Suisse and UBS moved to terminate loans with him. The SBA says its members adhere to the highest international standards. Chief executive Jörg Gasser, argues Swiss banks have “no interest in funds of dubious origin” and have rigorous procedures in place to rapidly screen for sanctioned assets. “Swiss banks have been — and still are — very careful and diligent when it comes to accepting client funds,” he says, adding it is important to recognise the huge amount of legitimate business done with Russian entrepreneurs who are not subject to sanctions. For Mark Pieth, emeritus professor of criminal law at the University of Basel and a specialist in white-collar crime, the real story of the past decade is how Switzerland’s lawyers, rather than its bankers, have become the facilitators of hidden foreign money. “Swiss bankers were extremely cosy with Russians in the past,” he says. “Alongside London, this country was the porch for Russians into the west . . . but now I wouldn’t say the problem is so much with the banks — it is all the other intermediaries.” Swiss law gives remarkable sweep to attorney-client privilege, says Pieth, meaning lawyers can refuse to disclose almost anything to the authorities about their clients. The Swiss Bar Association strongly rejects this. “Professional secrecy does not protect against criminal acts,” it says. “Lawyers know the law and know what to do.” One senior industry figure defends the banks’ position unapologetically. He says everybody now wants to know the origins of their luxury jackets. But 10 years ago nobody was asking where they were made, by whom and with what materials. In banking, as in fashion, things have changed, he says, but nobody is haranguing the fashion world in the same way they are criticising banks. Fashion companies, though, have moved with the times and opened up, whereas Switzerland’s banks, for all their insistence on change and compliance, still want to maintain as much of the secrecy surrounding their clients as possible — even at a time of international crisis.  

  • Helsinki Commission Disturbed by Navalny’s Transfer to Notorious Melekhovo Prison Colony

    WASHINGTON—Following the temporary disappearance of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent transfer to an infamously severe prison colony in Melekhovo, Russia, 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: “Alexei Navalny should have never been jailed in the first place. His disappearance—with no notification to his lawyers or his family—is a chilling reminder of the dangerous reality of being a political prisoner in Putin’s Russia. The Melekhovo prison colony is infamous for its history of abuse and torture, and we are concerned that Mr. Navalny is now at even greater risk of harm. We will never stop calling for his release and the release of all prisoners of conscience in Russia, including Russian patriot Vladimir Kara-Murza.” On June 14, Navalny’s lawyers unexpectedly were turned away from IK-2, the penal colony where he had been detained, and informed only that Navalny was no longer there. Russian state media later reported that he was transferred to a high-security penal colony in Melekhovo, in the same region. Inmates there report being beaten, raped, and tortured by guards and other inmates. In March, Russian authorities sentenced Navalny to nine years in prison, in addition to his original sentence of two and a half years. He has been jailed since January 2021. Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was arrested in April, remains in prison awaiting trial for spreading “false” information about the Russian military.

  • European Energy Security Post-Russia

    Russia is weaponizing energy to prolong its unlawful invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the sanctions that Europe and the United States have put in place have not been enough to curb Russian aggression thus far and the European Union pays Russia almost a billion euros a day for energy resources—mostly gas— that fund the Russian war machine.  Germany, in particular, has struggled to move away from its dependence on Russian gas. At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany imported 55 percent of its gas from Russia. As of June 2022, Russian gas imports had decreased to 35 percent, with a goal to decrease to 10 percent by 2024, but progress is slow and buying any energy from Russia means that Germany continues to fund their unlawful invasion. Dr. Benjamin Schmitt, Research Associate at Harvard University and Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, pointed to the resurgence of Ostpolitik, a German diplomatic theory which seeks to build relationships and spread good governance through trade. First introduced in the Cold War era, Ostpolitik was put into action once more in the early 2000s by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who became infamous for lobbying for Kremlin-backed projects in office and for sitting on the board of the Russian state-owned energy company, Gazprom, after leaving office. However, Russia attempted to leverage such projects, including the Nord Stream 1 project and its ultimately bankrupted predecessor, Nord Stream 2, to increase the vulnerability of Western Europe toward Russia. According to Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, domestic political will exists in Germany to diversify energy sources, even if most are wary of making those changes immediately. German polling shows that one-third of Germans are willing to cut off Russian gas immediately, while two-thirds would prefer a slow gradual decrease in gas. Dr. Stelzenmüller explained that if Germany were to immediately cut off Russian gas supplies, it is likely that a recession would affect not only Germany, but also many surrounding Eastern European countries, most of which have less capacity to manage a recession. She stated, “Much of [Germany’s] manufacturing supply chains go deep into Eastern Europe. So, a recession in Germany would absolutely produce a massive, and perhaps worse, recession in our neighboring economies.”  Any actions taken against Russia should ensure that sanctions hit Russia harder than those countries imposing the sanctions. Mr. Yuriy Vitrenko, CEO of Naftogaz Ukraine, and Dr. Schmitt also emphasized the importance of the following recommendations outlined in the REPowerEU plan, the European Commission’s plan to make Europe independent from Russian energy before 2030, and the International Working Group on Russia Sanctions Energy Roadmap: Full European/US embargos on Russian gas. Creation of a special escrow account that will hold net proceeds due to Russia until the Kremlin ceases all hostilities. Diversification of energy dependance away from Russia through energy diplomacy that identifies other potential suppliers, like Qatar. Funding and construction of energy infrastructure around Europe. Termination of Gazprom ownership of all critical energy infrastructure in Europe. Designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, which would automatically trigger secondary sanctions on any country that imports Russian goods. Sanctioning of all Russian banks. Strengthening of Ukrainian capacity to participate in the energy sector through the creation of modern energy infrastructure during the post-war reconstruction period. Pass the Stop Helping America’s Malign Enemies (SHAME) Act, banning former U.S. government officials from seeking employment by Russian state-owned-enterprises, or Schroederization. Related Information Witness Biographies

  • European Energy Security Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: EUROPEAN ENERGY SECURITY POST-RUSSIA Tuesday, June 7, 2022 2:30 p.m. Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission The United States and European allies have largely cut Russia out of the global economy following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, given European reliance on Russian natural gas and oil, sweeping energy sanctions have lagged. The European Union spends nearly a billion euros a day on Russian energy, and several EU Member States are struggling to wean themselves off Russian resources in order to implement a full embargo. This hearing will examine plans to create a Europe that is wholly free from Russian oil and gas. Witnesses will discuss the importance of a robust energy embargo to starving the Russian war machine; options to ensure that Ukraine’s energy needs are met; alternative sources of energy for Europe; and the perspective of Germany, which plays an outsize role as the most powerful economy in Europe and a primary consumer of Russian natural resources. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Yuriy Vitrenko, CEO, Naftogaz Ukraine Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution Benjamin Schmitt, Research Associate, Harvard University; Senior Fellow, Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

  • Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

    More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses discussed the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient.   Related Information Witness Biographies

  • Why I’m Sad to Be on Russia’s All-Purpose Payback List

    Reading Russia’s latest sanctions list, permanently banning travel to the country by 963 people, saddened me — and not just because my name is on it. It’s a catalogue of hurt from a nation that seems ready to blame everybody but its leaders for its current troubles. The list is very long indeed, running to nearly 100 pages in my printout. Reading so many names, you sense that Russia is deliberately burning nearly all its bridges to the United States. Russia’s ruling elite feels abused by American politicians, business leaders, journalists, judges, think tanks — nearly everyone, it seems. Donald Trump can still visit Moscow, but scores of Republican members of Congress can’t. The list of excluded GOP senators ranges from moderates such as Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mitt Romney of Utah to hard-right stalwarts Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The GOP doesn’t fare much better in the House. Moderates Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin can’t tour the Kremlin anymore, but neither can Jim Jordan of Ohio or Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. As for Democrats, forget about it. The sanctions list includes the Democratic House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. The Congressional Progressive Caucus can save its rubles, too. The members of “the Squad” are all banned. So are Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Ro Khanna of California. It’s the same on the Senate side. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois: Nyet, nyet.

  • Helsinki Commission on Sanctions Extended by Russia on Commissioners and Staff

    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.

  • Support for Ukrainian Refugees to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: SUPPORTING UKRAINIAN REFUGEES U.S. Policy and Visa Issuance Wednesday, May 25, 2022 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses will discuss the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1 Dana Francis, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration,U.S. Department of State (TBC) Panel 2 H. E. Marek Magierowski, Ambassador of Poland to the United States Irina Manelis, Esq., Principal, Manelis Law

  • Putin's Bribetakers and Warmongers

    The Helsinki Commission was briefed on 6,000 bribetakers and warmongers identified by Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

  • Chairman Cardin, Colleagues Introduce Resolution Calling for Release of Russian Opposition Leader Vladimir Kara-Murza

    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.

  • Swiss Release Some Frozen Russian Assets

    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-Murza

    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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