Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate today on Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian activist who has been hospitalized for the second time in the last two years after another apparent poisoning:

“Mr. President: 

“Last week I was heartbroken to learn that my dear friend Vladimir Kara-Murza, had been hospitalized in Moscow. Those of us who know the work of this brave Russian patriot could not afford to hope or assume that he was suffering some ordinary illness. Just two years ago, under mysterious circumstances, Vladimir grew very ill and fell into a coma. Many suspected he was poisoned to intimidate him—or worse. That is why last week’s news signaled another shadowy strike against a brilliant voice who has defied the tyranny of Putin’s Russia.  

“Many Americans are not familiar with the life of Vladimir Kara-Murza, but it is one that reflects the very best qualities of leadership—courage, selflessness, idealism, and patriotism. And it is a life dedicated to the principles we all hold dear—truth and justice, freedom and fairness, human rights and human dignity.

“All his life, Vladimir has been a brave, outspoken, and relentless champion for the Russian people. He is the deputy leader of the People’s Freedom Party, Russia’s leading pro-democracy party. He is the leading coordinator of Open Russia, a foundation that promotes civil society and democracy in Russia. In 2011, he helped mobilize the largest anti-Kremlin demonstrations since the early 1990s, leading tens of thousands of Russians to march in protest of widespread fraud and corruption in the parliamentary elections.

“In the United States, Vladimir was one of the most passionate and effective advocates for passage of the Magnitsky Act, legislation that gives the federal government powers to punish human rights violators in Russia. Most recently, he has eloquently and persuasively campaigned to expand the Act to impose sanctions on those Russian journalists, who are so cowed and corrupted by the Kremlin, they have become indispensable to propagating the lies and atmosphere of hate, fear and violence the Putin regime relies on to maintain power.

“Vladimir carries the indomitable spirit of a revolutionary in his blood. And his family history has given him a grave appreciation of the sacrifices they are so often called to make. His father was a journalist and a television host who spoke out against Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev and was a successful advocate for reform in the 1990s. His great-grandfather George Bisenieks was a Latvian diplomat, who was captured after the Soviet invasion in 1940 and was executed by Stalin’s henchmen in Moscow in 1941. Another of his great-grandfathers, Voldemars Bisenieks, took part in Russia’s 1905 revolution. In 1938, he too was executed by the Soviets.

“Vladimir once described the experience of visiting the KGB archives in Moscow, where he reviewed the thin file on his great-grandfather that contained the scant evidence required for a death sentence in Stalin’s Russia. He recalled the weight that fell upon him when he read the modest document to which the executioners affixed the date and their signatures to signify that the judgment had been carried out.

“Vladimir also learned what it takes to be a revolutionary from our mutual friend, Boris Nemtsov. Vladimir and Boris struggled together for years in the cause of freedom and democracy. Vladimir once called Boris ‘the best president Russia never had.’ Boris was one of the first to warn of the coming Putin dictatorship, even when many of his fellow liberals could not see it. He told the truth about Putin’s reign of terror, rampant corruption, and his illegal invasion of Ukraine. And for the crime of telling the truth in Putin’s Russia, Boris Nemtsov was murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin in 2015. He died a martyr for the rights of people who were taught to hate him, but who will one day mourn his death, revere his memory, and despise his murderers.

“After Boris’s assassination, many urged Vladimir not to return to Russia. And he had every reason not to. He knew his own family’s history with tyranny. He knew what happened to Boris. And he knew all too well about the culture of impunity that Putin has created in Russia, where individuals are routinely persecuted and attacked for their beliefs, including by the Russian government, and no one is ever held responsible.

“He knew about Sergei Yushenkov, who was investigating the Kremlin’s potential role in the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia when he was shot and killed at the entrance of his apartment.

“He knew about American journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was investigating Russian government connections to organized crime when he was shot to death in Moscow in 2004.

“He knew about Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist, human rights activist, and fierce critic of Putin’s brutal war in Chechnya, who was murdered in the stairwell of her apartment building on Putin’s birthday in 2006.

“He knew about former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who exposed the Putin regime’s massive corruption, ties to organized crime, and involvement in assassination and murder, and was poisoned to death in 2006 with a radioactive isotope in a brazen act of nuclear terrorism.

“And he knew about Sergei Magnitsky…that most unlikely of heroes in the cause of freedom…the humble tax attorney who blew the whistle on tax fraud and large-scale theft by Russian government officials, only to be charged with their crimes and die in a squalid cell inside the prison that once held the political opponents of the tsars and the Soviets.

“In short, Vladimir knew that Putin is a killer, and that he might very well be the next target. Vladimir knew there was no moral equivalence between the United States and Putin’s Russia. And anyone who would make such a suggestion maligns the character of our great nation and does a disservice to all those whose blood is on Putin’s hands.

“But knowing all of this, knowing that his life was at risk, Vladimir returned to Russia. He continued to speak truth to power. He kept faith with his ideals in confrontation with a cruel and dangerous autocracy. He kept faith—honorably and bravely—with the example of his friend and comrade, Boris Nemtsov.

“Now it appears that Vladimir has once again paid the price for his gallantry and integrity, for placing the interests of the Russian people before his own self-interest. Vladimir is very ill, but I am encouraged to learn his condition is now stable.

“So today, I offer my most heartfelt prayers for the recovery of Vladimir Kara-Murza and for the success of the cause to which he has dedicated his life: truth and justice for the Russian people. And I do so with the confidence Vladimir himself once expressed: ‘I am sure that in the end we will win, because even when dictators prevail for some time, sooner or later, freedom wins.’”

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