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Statement on Vladimir Kara-Murza

On March 15th, 2022, Vladimir Kara-Murza spoke at an event in Arizona hosted by the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU, the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations, and the ASU Sandra Day O’Conner College of Law on Great Power Competition. Earlier that same day, Kara-Murza, a staunch pro-democracy activist and politician, was welcomed to the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives to speak on the state of democracy in Russia and Moscow’s aggressions toward the west. Speaking to the house, Kara-Murza discussed criminality throughout Putin’s political career and the intentional Russian destruction of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in the ongoing conflict that began in February 2022. On April 22nd, a little over a month after his speech, Kara-Murza was detained in Russia for spreading “deliberately false information” about the Russian Armed Forces in his March 15th remarks. A criminal case of treason was formally initiated against Vladimir Kara-Murza on October 6th, 2022, alongside accusations that he undermined Russian security by assisting organizations from NATO countries. Although Kara-Murza has pleaded not guilty, he will likely be charged; the sentence can carry up to 20 years in prison.

Below is a transcription of his March 15th, 2022, remarks at the Arizona House of Representatives. The transcription has been edited for clarity.

Transcription of Vladimir Kara-Murza’s March 15th, 2022 Speech at the Arizona House of Representatives
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Vladimir Kara-Murza, Speaker Bowers

Speaker Bowers  00:01
Members, we are honored today to have Vladimir Kara-Murza with us. There is a bio on each of your desks that will describe what I would consider a very brave position as a dissident, but chiefly as a politician, author, and historian. Mr. Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice by the regime in Russia, and obviously, he’s with us today. He is a powerful voice of the opposition to the current regime in Russia. We asked him to come today. He is a guest here of the Phoenix Council of Foreign Relations and Tina and Claire, and we’re just very grateful to have him. We’d like to give him a few minutes to talk to you if we could.

Vladimir Kara-Murza  01:27
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the very kind introduction. Mr. Majority Leader, Mr. Minority Leader, members of the House, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it is an honor to be here in the Arizona State Legislature. I am grateful to be here as well. I wasn’t sure as I was getting out of Moscow last week if I would even be able to come in because most of the airspace around Russia is now closed, as you know, as a response from Western democracies to the war of aggression. This is a legal term from the Nuremberg statutes, which I’m using deliberately. The war of aggression that Vladimir Putin’s regime has unleashed against the nation of Ukraine. But there are still a few routes left out of Russia, and it took me two days to get to the US, but I did and am very grateful to be here. I’m very grateful to be in this weather as well after Moscow, so thank you so much. Thank you so much for your hospitality.

It has a special meaning for me to be here in Arizona because I had the honor of knowing and working on so many issues together with the late Senator John McCain, who was one of the people who saw and understood Vladimir Putin from the very beginning back in 2000, as Putin was only coming to power. So many people in the West engaged in wishful thinking that this man would be a reformer and that this man would be a democrat. Senator McCain, in the South Carolina primary presidential debate against George W. Bush, when referring to Mr. Putin, said that he is going to be one of those people who will make the trains run on time. That is, of course, a direct reference to the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy, and he turned out to be absolutely right.

It was very frustrating for us in Russia, for those of us who believe in democracy in Russia, to see Putin rise to power. I can say, for one, I realized just who Mr. Putin was and just which direction he would lead our country and the world. In December of 1999, I even remember the specific date, it might sound strange, but there’s a reason for that. December the 20th, 1999. The day is still marked in Russia astonishingly as Chekist day, the day to commemorate the founding of the Cheka, later known as the KGB, the Bolshevik secret police, in 1917. On that day in 1999, Vladimir Putin, then still Prime Minister of Russia, went to Lubyanka Square in Moscow, the site of the old KGB headquarters, to officially unveil a memorial plaque to Yuri Andropov. Yuri Andropov, of course, was somebody who symbolized and epitomized the worst of the worst of the post-Stalin political repression in the Soviet Union. He was somebody who was among the organizers of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. He was somebody who had, for years, prioritized targeting and prosecuting political dissidents in the Soviet Union. One of the things he did was institute a horrendous practice of punitive psychiatry. Dissidents, people opposed to the communist regime, would be forcibly confined to psychiatric institutions, declared mentally insane, and kept there in torturous conditions for years and years. So it was to that man that Vladimir Putin unveiled a memorial plaque back in December of 1999. To me and so many of my friends and colleagues in Russia, there were no more questions about who this man was and what he would do.

To make it absolutely clear if anybody still had any questions, during the first year of his role, Mr. Putin reinstated the Stalin-era national anthem of the Soviet Union as the national anthem of the Russian Federation. Russia is a country of symbols, and to choose a symbol like that is an unmistakable message of what direction you’re going to take. Very quickly, the symbols turned into actions. Very quickly, Vladimir Putin began to go after independent media, began to go after opposition parties, began to rig elections, imprison opponents, then murder opponents, and very quickly, within the space of literally a few years, transformed Russia from an imperfect democracy that we had back in the 1990s to the perfect authoritarian state that he has built today.

All this time, once again, he was welcomed in western capitals, had his hand shaken, and the red carpet rolled for his planes when he would arrive. One American president after another would look into his eyes and get a sense of his soul, declare a reset with him, or offer all kinds of steps of enabling and appeasement. Not just in a sort of, on the words level only, but in a very practical sense that for years and years and years, Western countries allowed the oligarchs and the kleptocrats around Putin to use your countries, to use Western countries, Western banks, Western financial systems, as havens for the money that these oligarchs and kleptocrats have been stealing from the people of Russia. The whole modus operandi of the Putin regime is that the people around him, let’s not forget, it’s not just an autocratic regime, it’s a kleptocratic one as well, from the classic Greek definition of the word “ruled by the thieves”; those thieves want to steal in Russia and then spend and stash away that stolen money in the West, where they have their yachts, their villas, their bank accounts, or very often their families. For years and years, Western countries would allow that to happen.

So, the way I first met Senator John McCain was when we worked with him and others to introduce back in 2010, a bill in the American Congress called the Magnitsky Act, which put forward a very simple principle: that those people who are engaged in human rights abuses and corruption in Russia, and in fact, any other authoritarian state around the world, would no longer be able to get visas on assets or use the financial and banking system of the United States. In other words, this person would not be able to use the spoils of their thievery in American banks, and this Act became law. Building on the American example, there are similar pieces of legislation now across the western world, in fact, in all major western jurisdictions. For years and years and years, people like Boris Nemtsov, the late leader of the Russian opposition, who was the most prominent, the most powerful, and the most effective voice against the corruption, abuses, and crimes committed by the Putin regime; who seven years ago in February of 2015, was murdered, literally gunned down in front of the Kremlin walls in Moscow. For years, Boris Nemtsov would call on Western countries to stop this enabling and to impose those high-level personal sanctions against Putin’s cronies and oligarchs. But so many in the western world chose to look the other way.

I’m not only a politician, but I’m also a historian by education, and one thing we know from history is how the appeasement of dictators ends; it always ends the same way. I wish we had been wrong on this, but today the whole world sees what the Putin regime is doing to Ukraine. The cluster bombs on residential areas, the bombings of maternity wards, hospitals, and schools, and the war crimes. These are war crimes that are being committed by the dictatorial regime in the Kremlin against a nation in the middle of Europe. This is, unfortunately, where all the years of Putin’s rule have led us. But as much as it’s difficult for any of us to be a little bit optimistic and even a little bit hopeful about the future, I also want to speak about the other side of Russia to you. Very often, people in the West only see the official side. They see Putin, the repression, the aggressive actions, and the war that is now happening. The other side is very often lost. The other side, of course, is that there are millions of people in my country who fundamentally reject and fundamentally disagree with everything that the Putin regime stands for and represents, from the Kleptocracy to the abuses, repressions, and crimes against humanity that are being committed.

For the past three weeks, since the war against Ukraine started, thousands of Russians have been going on to the streets, literally every single day, to protest against what is happening. To protest against this crime that is being done, supposedly in our name. According to the latest count by human rights groups, more than fifteen thousand arrests were made across Russia since February 24th, the day of the aggression, against those people who have tried to demonstrate against the war. I say tried because all public demonstrations in Russia are forbidden. To such an extent that, for example, several days ago, at the end of last week, a Russian Orthodox priest was arrested after he left his church after speaking out against the war in his sermon. After Sunday service in his church in the Kostroma region, he reminded people of the sixth commandment, “thou shalt not kill.” For this, he was arrested and taken to the police station, charged, and fined under the new administrative offense of, quote/unquote, “discrediting the armed services of the Russian Federation,” end of quote. So if you recite a biblical commandment, you’re discrediting the armed forces; this is the Orwellian reality that Vladimir Putin’s regime has created in our country. Despite this, and despite the great dangers and risks that are faced by anybody who dares to oppose the Putin regime, thousands of people across Russia are willing to take that risk and pay that price, to stand out and speak out for a better, different, and more hopeful Russia.

Again, putting on my hat as a historian, we do not have appeasement of such regimes. We see this today, but we also know that these regimes end. We have seen this a few times in the history of our own country. I’m old enough, from as a child, I do remember very vividly the events of August 1991, the collapse of the Soviet system. When it began, as you know, it was a hardline coup d’etat, staged by the top leadership of the Communist Party in the KGB, in an attempt to end perestroika, glasnost, and all these attempts at reforms and go back to the bad old ways. The people who were behind that had absolutely everything at their disposal, or at least it seemed. They had the whole government machine, the party apparatus, all the television networks, radio stations, and newspapers; they had the police and the army, the KGB, the horrendous Soviet repressive machine, and of course, they had the tanks, which they sent into the streets of Moscow. Now, remember those tanks, watching those tanks in the streets of my city.

Russian citizens, Muscovites who rejected that coup, were not armed with anything except their dignity and their determination to defend their freedom. They went into the streets in the thousands, then tens of thousands, and eventually hundreds of thousands, and literally stood in front of the tanks. Then the tanks stopped and turned away. This was my first conscious political memory. I was ten years of age at the time, and this lesson will live with me for as long as I’m here. When enough people in society are willing to stand up, to put an end to the repression, to stand up for their dignity, to stand up for their rights, to stand up for their freedom, all that seeming strength of dictatorships becomes powerless.

Back in the early 1980s, when the Soviet regime seemed to enter a very, very dark phase, there was increased domestic repression, there were heightened tensions internationally, you remember the Boeing that was shot down by the Soviet military, all the sort of ratched up war of rhetoric between Soviet leaders and President Reagan, the complete crushing of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union, all the dissident groups were disbanded, the Samizdat publications were ceased, all the leading dissidents were either in prison and labor camp or exile. It seemed that all hope was lost. It was then that Soviet dissidents coined that famous phrase that they like to repeat, “night is darkest before the dawn.” People would laugh at them and say, “What are you talking about?” Actually, it turned out that they were right because just a few years after that, the Soviet regime collapsed.

These are very dark times in Russia today. These are times when we have hundreds of political prisoners. That number is only going to grow now as people are arrested for taking part in anti-war demonstrations. All the major opposition organizations have been crushed and destroyed; all the remaining independent media outlets have been liquidated by the authorities since the start of the war in Ukraine in the past three weeks; every day, we hear of new arrests, detentions, and new repressions against our friends. But we know, and we remember that lesson, that night is darkest before the dawn. We know the dawn will come. We know that there are many people in Russia who share our views and our values.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose trial ended today with a demand from the prosecution that he is sentenced to 13 years in prison for speaking out against the Putin regime. He was once asked, “what is your goal for Russia? What do you want to happen? Let’s say you come to power. What do you want? What do you want to do?” Maybe the journalist was expecting a long and drawn-out response, you know, various proposals, programs, and whatever. Alexei Navalny responded with a very simple sentence. He said we want “Russia to be a normal European country,” end of quote.

We do know that there will come a day when Russia does become a normal European country. I think it will be in the interests, not just of those of us who are in Russia but also of all of you in the international community, to have a government in Moscow that would both respect the rights and freedoms of its own people and that would behave as a responsible citizen on the international stage. We know that day will come and everything that we do in the Russian opposition movement has as its goal to try to bring that day a little closer.

I thank you very much for the honor of speaking before you today. And I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Publish Date
October 7, 2022