Shaheen, Rubio Call on Tillerson to Meet With Russian Civil Society Groups During Upcoming Trip

April 05, 2017

**SHAHEEN & RUBIO: “The courage shown by Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris Nemtsov, and countless other Russians in the face of deadly threats meant to discourage their calls for political freedom deserves our respect and support.”**

(Washington, DC)—U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both members of the Foreign Relations Committee and the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, today sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formally requesting that he meet with civil society groups, as all of his predecessors in recent Republican and Democratic administrations have done, during his trip to Russia later this month.

The senator’s letter reads in part, “We feel strongly that democratically-minded Russians should know that the U.S. supports their aspirations, and as our nation’s top diplomat, you are in a unique position to communicate this message.” The letter continues. “The courage shown by Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris Nemtsov, and countless other Russians in the face of deadly threats meant to discourage their calls for political freedom deserves our respect and support. In this spirit, we request that you meet with civil society groups during your upcoming visit to Russia and continue to demonstrate U.S. support for open and democratic societies.”

Their letter follows nationwide anti-corruption protests in Russia that drew worldwide attention and resulted in thousands of unlawful detentions, and recent congressional testimony from Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is still recovering from a second attempt on his life. Mr. Kara-Murza testified before the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee last week and expressed his hope that Secretary Tillerson would meet with groups promoting democratic values in Russia.  

Text of the senators’ letter can be read below: 

The Honorable Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20521

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

As members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, we recently had an opportunity to hear testimony from prominent Russian dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza, regarding the state of civil society in Russia.  We write today to request that you make time to meet with Russian civil society groups during your upcoming visit to that country.

As you acknowledged during your confirmation hearing, since his election 17 years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadily eroded the rights afforded to Russian citizens under their country’s constitution, particularly with regard to political freedoms.  As Mr. Kara-Murza pointed out to our Subcommittee, not a single election held in Russia since President Putin took office has been assessed to be free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Just this past weekend, the world watched as more than 1,500 anti-corruption protesters were arrested by Russian state security forces across the country, while many more protesters were violently dispersed.  As Freedom House’s 2017 report on human rights in Russia states, “the [Russian] government has consistently reduced the space for freedoms of assembly and association. Overwhelming police responses, the use of force, routine arrests, and harsh fines and prison sentences have discouraged unsanctioned protests, though pro-Kremlin groups are able to demonstrate freely.”[1]

This finding is entirely supported by Mr. Kara-Murza’s testimony before our Subcommittee on March 29.  In that hearing, he urged the U.S. and other democratic governments to continue to press Vladimir Putin when it comes to respect for the rights we consider to be inalienable.  In particular, he expressed his hope that you would make time to meet with civil society groups during your upcoming visit to Russia, as your predecessors have, in order to lend U.S. support to their cause.  We write today in full support of his request.  

Although President Putin and his associates have done their best to suppress any attempts to challenge their rule, Mr. Kara-Murza spoke movingly about the many people across Russia, particularly among younger generations, who are advocating for a freer society like those in the former Soviet countries that have successfully transitioned to fully-fledged democracies.  We feel strongly that democratically-minded Russians should know that the U.S. supports their aspirations, and as our nation’s top diplomat, you are in a unique position to communicate this message.

Vladimir Putin has not succeeded in silencing Mr. Kara-Murza, who is recovering from a second, nearly fatal attempted poisoning, and we cannot let him prevent us from voicing our core beliefs.  The courage shown by Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris Nemtsov, and countless other Russians in the face of deadly threats meant to discourage their calls for political freedom deserves our respect and support.  In this spirit, we request that you meet with civil society groups during your upcoming visit to Russia and continue to demonstrate U.S. support for open and democratic societies.

Sincerely, 

Jeanne Shaheen                                                                                                             

United States Senator  

Marco Rubio                                                                                     

United States Senator

 

[1] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/russia