WASHINGTON – Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to make sure that the plight of Russian leader Vladimir Kara-Murza is not forgotten.
That the outrageous imprisonment of Vladimir Kara-Murza by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is not forgotten.
We remember three decades ago what hope we had for a new Russia.
Russia entered a new age of possibility some three decades ago, after more than 70 years of communist repression, the Soviet order had collapsed, and with it the Iron Curtain that kept freedom away from millions was torn down.
As the red flags came down in Moscow, the free world watched with anticipation, hoping that democracy and the rule of law might finally take root in a free Russia.
Regrettably, that has not happened.
Instead of democracy and freedom, the Russian people got Vladimir Putin, a man who has used his office to murder, imprison, and force into exile anyone who threatens his grip on power — all the while, enriching himself beyond anyone’s wildest imagination while ordinary Russians, especially out in the countryside of Russia, live in squalid conditions.
One of his latest victims is Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian patriot and a friend I had the privilege of hosting in my office just four months ago.
As a matter of fact, I have hosted him several times.
Today, Vladimir Kara-Murza spends his days in a prison cell, where the only thing you can see through the window is a barbed wire fence.
What was his crime?
He simply spoke the truth about Putin’s war on Ukraine.
His trial, if it can even be called a trial, was held in secret.
No journalists, no diplomats or spectators of any kind were allowed to be there.
And for his offense of talking about the Russian war against Ukraine, he now faces up to 15 years in prison.
This is not the first time the Russian dictator has tried to silence him. Mr. Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice, in 2015 and 2017, and almost died in both cases.
Since then, his wife and three children have had to live abroad, though he himself has chosen to spend most of his time in Russia.
In a recent interview with National Review, his wife, Evgenia explained why he insists on working in Russia: “He believes that he would not have the moral right to call on people to fight if he were not sharing the same risks.”
Or as Mr. Kara-Murza put it in a recent CNN interview the day of his arrest.
He said, “The biggest gift we could give the Kremlin would be to just give up and run. That’s all they want from us.”
What a contrast in character to the man currently running the Kremlin.
The National Review’s story goes on to describe Mr. Kara-Murza’s courageous work for democracy through the eyes of his wife of Evgenia, as well as the costs that he and his family have endured along with so many other Russian dissidents.
And, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent at this point to insert the National Review story that I referred to into the record.
Mr. Kara-Murza’s imprisonment is part of Mr. Putin’s larger assault on what remains of political freedom in Russia.
In Mr. Kara-Murza’s words, Putin’s regime has gone, “from highly authoritarian to near totalitarian almost overnight.”
In March, Russian officials passed a new censorship law, forbidding all criticism of Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine.
That law has been the basis for more than 16,000 arrests since the war began in February, including that of Mr. Kara-Murza.
Another 2,400 Russians have been charged with administrative offenses for speaking out against the war.
Meanwhile, Putin’s propaganda machine is ramping up.
Independent Russian media outlets have all but vanished, having been blocked, shut down, or forced out of the country by the Kremlin.
The last embers of freedom in Russia are going cold.
Putin’s crackdown on domestic freedom began in 2003, when Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on trumped up charges of tax fraud after he simply criticized the government.
A former member of the elite, Mr. Khodorkovsky, had successfully led the Yukos Oil Company through privatization after the Iron Curtain fell.
And contrary to the Kremlin’s claims, the company consistently paid its taxes.
But that didn’t stop Vladimir Putin from plundering its assets, throwing Mr. Khodorkovsky in jail, where he stayed for ten years.
I would note that just before his arrest, Mr. Khodorkovsky displayed the same courage and patriotism that we now see in Vladimir Kara-Murza.
Like Mr. Kara-Murza, he knew very well he could go to jail for speaking out against the government.
But Mr. Khodorkovsky did so anyway and refused to flee the country, saying, “I would prefer to be a political prisoner rather than a political immigrant.”
Of course, by then, Mr. Putin had already shown himself willing to violate the international laws of war, having leveled the Chechen capital of Grozny in his own Republic of Russia in 1999.
In 2008, he launched a new assault on international law with the invasion of Georgia.
In 2014 he started a bloody war in eastern Ukraine, and in 2016, Soviet Russian dictator Putin and his forces attacked the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians and prolonging the rule of Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Putin ramped up his attacks on domestic freedom as well.
In 2015 Boris Nemtsov, leader of the democratic opposition, former deputy prime minister of Russia, was shot to death in broad daylight just yards away from the Kremlin.
Three months later, Mr. Kara-Murza was poisoned for the first time.
More recently, in 2020, Alexei Navalny, the current leader of the opposition, was himself poisoned and had to seek treatment in Berlin.
This is Vladimir Putin’s Russia today.
When Navalny recovered, he chose to return to Moscow, knowing the risks, and immediately upon landing, he was arrested.
This is the deplorable state of Russia and freedom under Vladimir Putin.
Time and again, he has shown that he is bent on stamping out the aspirations of his people for freedom and the rule of law.
As leader of the free world, America must continue to condemn Putin’s lawless acts and stand in solidarity with our Russian friends, who are courageously fighting against all odds for a better future in Russia — and are suffering as a result.
These are modern day heroes: Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and we should not forget them.
My friend, the distinguished senior senator from Maryland, Senator Cardin and I, along with Congressman Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, are the four House and Senate leaders of the Helsinki Commission, which monitors human rights and former Soviet countries.
We recently sent a joint letter to President Biden calling on the administration to name and sanction all of those who have been involved in the arrest, detention and persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza.
I issue that call again today, and I invite my colleagues from both parties to stand with Vladimir Kara-Murza and work for his release.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I yield the floor.