We don’t often agree with the aging and sometimes seemingly senile senator from Arizona but in fairness will allow our readers to read his letter to the Russian people, published by Pravda.
When Pravda.ru editor, Dmitry Sudakov, offered to publish my commentary, he referred to me as “an active anti-Russian politician for many years.” I’m sure that isn’t the first time Russians have heard me characterized as their antagonist. Since my purpose here is to dispel falsehoods used by Russia’s rulers to perpetuate their power and excuse their corruption, let me begin with that untruth. I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.
I make that claim because I respect your dignity and your right to self-determination. I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government. I believe you deserve the opportunity to improve your lives in an economy that is built to last and benefits the many, not just the powerful few. You should be governed by a rule of law that is clear, consistently and impartially enforced and just. I make that claim because I believe the Russian people, no less than Americans, are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered. President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don’t respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.
They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule.
Sergei Magnistky wasn’t a human rights activist. He was an accountant at a Moscow law firm. He was an ordinary Russian who did an extraordinary thing. He exposed one of the largest state thefts of private assets in Russian history. He cared about the rule of law and believed no one should be above it. For his beliefs and his courage, he was held in Butyrka prison without trial, where he was beaten, became ill and died. After his death, he was given a show trial reminiscent of the Stalin-era and was, of course, found guilty. That wasn’t only a crime against Sergei Magnitsky. It was a crime against the Russian people and your right to an honest government – a government worthy of Sergei Magnistky and of you.
President Putin claims his purpose is to restore Russia to greatness at home and among the nations of the world. But by what measure has he restored your greatness? He has given you an economy that is based almost entirely on a few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities. Its riches will not last. And, while they do, they will be mostly in the possession of the corrupt and powerful few. Capital is fleeing Russia, which – lacking rule of law and a broad-based economy – is considered too risky for investment and entrepreneurism. He has given you a political system that is sustained by corruption and repression and isn’t strong enough to tolerate dissent.
How has he strengthened Russia’s international stature? By allying Russia with some of the world’s most offensive and threatening tyrannies. By supporting a Syrian regime that is murdering tens of thousands of its own people to remain in power and by blocking the United Nations from even condemning its atrocities. By refusing to consider the massacre of innocents, the plight of millions of refugees, the growing prospect of a conflagration that engulfs other countries in its flames an appropriate subject for the world’s attention. He is not enhancing Russia’s global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world.
President Putin doesn’t believe in these values because he doesn’t believe in you. He doesn’t believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn’t believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you.
I do believe in you. I believe in your capacity for self-government and your desire for justice and opportunity. I believe in the greatness of the Russian people, who suffered enormously and fought bravely against terrible adversity to save your nation. I believe in your right to make a civilization worthy of your dreams and sacrifices. When I criticize your government, it is not because I am anti-Russian. It is because I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you. And, I long for the day when you have it.