Sen. Cruz's Remarks on the Sochi Olympics, Human Rights, and the US-Russian Relations
by Ted Cruz on February 3, 2014 at 5:06 PM
Thank you, it is a pleasure to get back to Heritage to be with so many friends and to have the opportunity to discuss an issue with such pressing importance, which is namely the growing influence that Russia is having in the world. The lack of focus on human rights, the lack of US leadership championing freedom, and the lack of effective leadership defending our interest in the world, which is making the world a much more dangerous place.
Russia is going the wrong way on human rights, and the U.S. is so rudderless that we either can’t, or won’t, take a stand on this key issue. We need to get back to our long tradition of standing up for rights of every human being on earth.
Because the United States is receding from a global leadership, the consequence is that Russia is stepping in from Egypt to Syria to Iran—we are seeing spheres of influence grow that diminishes our role, and ultimately diminishes the hope that every person might have to live in freedom.
Now, emphasizing human rights is not disinterested do-gooding. It is speaking for the fundamental values of who we are as Americans, and it emphasizes our history and our tradition, and the impact that that has had on promoting peace in the world.
The best model in how do deal with Russia is a model we saw of President Reagan. President Reagan never shied from speaking the truth; and by the way, this is not the simplistic version that some in the foreign policy world would have you believe that if the United States stands up and speaks on human rights, it means we cannot deal with another nation.
President Reagan established a personal relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev and sat down over and over again bargaining to protect US security, ultimately setting the foundation to end the Cold War. And he did it while speaking up for human rights.
For example, Ronald Reagan, when he signed human rights day proclamation on Dec 10th 1986, said:
We’re honored this morning to have with us Mr. Urage O. Orlof and Mr. Nathan Cherodsky, who along with other brave individual’s people of extraordinary moral courage have suffered, many are now in labor camps or Siberian exile for the ideals that we proclaim today. The US intends to hold the Soviet Union to the human right commitment it made at Helsinki.
The Soviet Government, despite a few gestures this year—gestures that reflect posturing rather than flexibility—continues its systematic violation of human rights…The restriction of immigration, the suppression of dissent, the lengthy separation of families and spouses, the continued imprisonment of religious activists in Ukraine and throughout the Soviet Union are the orders of the day. These realities remain unacceptable, and we will continue to do our utmost to press for change and to bring our moral and diplomatic weight to bear on behalf of those brave souls who speak out within the Soviet bloc.
Can you imagine the current President of the United States speaking like that? What a sad statement that it’s almost impossible to imagine. That clarity of force, that voice for freedom and for human rights coming from the current administration … We need to get back to the voice America has been. Cherodsky describes how the prisoners would pass cell to cell notes; did you hear what President Reagan said? He called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He said Marxism Leninism would wind up on the ash heap of history. He went to the Brandenburg gate. He stood in front of the world and said “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall!”
American leadership and unambiguous advocacy of human rights and freedom penetrates the darkness of oppression, and we need to get back to it. We seem to have forgotten that tradition. Human rights abuses plummeted initially with the fall of the Soviet Union, but the price for such rapid liberalization was the constant threat of political chaos.
Under Vladimir Putin (1999- ), political stability has been achieved at the cost of human rights. Particularly after his re-election Putin has been increasingly autocratic and harsh in terms of human rights.
Almost exactly one year ago, Human Rights Watch named 2012 the worst year on record for human rights in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The record is chilling, even if it is more targeted and surgical than the abuses under the Soviets from everyone from political opponents like Alexei Navalny to punk rock bands.
Now as much as my staff wants me to share the particular name of the band I’m going to declaim from articulating their name and leave it to other sources. But it says something that the government of Russia views the persecution of punk rock bands as within its purview and perfectly appropriate. Now Putin’s apparent moderation coming up to the Sochi Olympics with the quote early release including the punk rock band in question were both done by decree, rather than actually reform of the legal system. Now if you can release someone by arbitrary decree, you can pick them up by arbitrary decree the next day.
Because the United States is globally receipting from leadership we’re seeing Putin in Russia expand its role in the world, we’re seeing it in Egypt, we’re seeing it in Iran, we’re seeing it in Syria, you want to talk about foreign policy that’s lost its moorings, this administration’s announce unilateral military strike against Syria that ultimately went off the rails because it didn’t clear articulable US national security interest the result of that was such a debacle that there was serious discussion in some quarters that Putin, being a credible candidate for Nobel Peace Prize.
Let me say this, if US foreign policy is so bungled that it makes Putin seem like the good guy and an advocate for peace, we have done something very, very wrong.
The world has seen some great chess matches. And yet in the geo-political stage it is almost as if the Russians have a renowned grand master playing chess and the United States is playing checkers. We’re not even playing the same game and the consequences are grave not just for the United States, but the whole world.
For example, the Obama administration needs to be called to account for its refusal to properly enforce the Magninski Act of 2012. You know, this piece of legislation was named for the brave whistle blower Sergei Magninski who died in police custody in 2009. And it worth revisiting his story because it underscores what it means to speak out for freedom and the role the US should play.
From 2007 to 2008 the Russian government framed the giant private equity fund hermitage capital management for tax fraud. Sergei Magninski, an attorney whose firm represented hermitage eventually, discovered 230 million dollars in tax fraud and a paper trail revealing that Russian officials used stolen documents from the hedge fund to concoct false accusations based on forged and back dated contracts. In November 2008, Russian authorities targeted Sergei and charged him with tax fraud. He was imprisoned in Moscow’s interior ministries detention center where he was tortured and pressured to sign false confessions admitting to these crimes. Under the next two months Sergei underwent unspeakable conditions. Living with eight inmates in a room with four beds, he lost forty pounds, and he developed pancreatis and gallstones. On November 16th 2009 his conditions worsened sharply. Doctors placed him in a straightjacket. Left him alone in a room and waited until he was dead. In December of 2012 the United States passed the Magninski act: committing to a black list of Russian Officials who have committed fraud or other abuses as well as those that contributed directly with the death of Sergei Magninski. It states that the US share support and provide assistance to the efforts of Russian people, to establish I true democratic political system which respects individual liberties and human rights. The Magninski act was called by David Kramer, the president of Freedom House, the most significant human right legislation about Russia since the end of the cold war.
But inexplicably the Obama administration has failed and indeed openly refused to comply with this act by listing the relevant human rights abusers. Last April they sanctioned nineteen individuals directly implicated in the death of Mr. Magninski and they promise an additional list of names of those guilty by the December 20th deadline. Apparently the list of the names was prepared, and yet December 20th came and went and because Russia was ostensibly being helpful and brokering a historically terrible deal with Iran the administration decided those names not be made public.
What a terrible statement to the world. Its not only an abuse of laws here it is a precedent that tells Russia, look the President here doesn’t have to follow the laws. There are laws on the books followed by congress, signed into law in the United States code and the President of the United States can simply say I will not comply. Why on earth should the president of Russia comply with any laws there? What standing do we have to criticize the President of Russia if our President is simultaneously saying he likes the idea of not complying with laws either.
We should follow the law, and the idea that we would trade fidelity to law, and trade standing up to human rights abuses to what’s perceived as temporary help in a negotiation – a negotiation I might add, that shares all of the virtues of the lost role of American leadership in foreign policy – the Iranian nuclear deal I very much agree with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is a very, very bad deal and a historic mistake. What’s chilling is we seem to be repeating the same mistakes we made in the 1990s with North Korea. When the United States brought together foreign nations and said ‘let’s relax the sanctions on North Korea because we trust them.’ And what happened? They used the relaxed sanctions, the billions of dollars we allowed to flow into North Korea, to develop nuclear weapons. This deal is doing the very same thing in Iran, and I’ll tell you the difference is North Korea when they acquired nuclear weapons, they haven’t used those weapons, it’s an extraordinary danger that North Korea has nuclear weapons but at the end of the day North Korea’s leadership seems to want nothing more than to stay in power, which means there is some version of rational deterrence that is possible if someone is focused on their own self-preservation, as Kim Jung Un appears to be.
The danger of Iran is if you listen to what the Ayatollah is saying, to what the Mullahs are saying, rational self-preservation is not their objective. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon the odds are unacceptably high that that weapon will not be simply stockpiled, but it will be detonated over Tel Aviv, or New York, or Los Angeles. Those risks are unacceptable, that’s what receding U.S. leadership means, and the idea that we would back away from US law, holding Russia’s human rights abuses to account simply because there is a desperate desire to cut a deal - it seems any deal - just cut a deal, says something when President Rouhani is boasting to the world, ‘the United States has succumb to our will.’ What a dramatic lack of leadership when it comes to protecting U.S. national security.
We need look no further than Ukraine to see a moment right now that desperately cries out for U.S. leadership. It is not complicated what Putin seeks to do. Putin is working to systematically reassemble the old Soviet Union. To expand his power, he has been candid about his desire for greater power and control and global reach. The United States right now has been facilitating that by stepping back and allowing him that leadership but what is happening in Ukraine is critical both from the perspective of justice but also from the perspective of U.S. national security interest. We were caught napping in Ukraine. Seems the administration just assumed that they would just sign the trade agreement with the European Union and pursue a bid to join NATO. We failed to anticipate that Putin, trying to rebuild the old Soviet Union, would swoop in.
President Yanukovych has taken more from Putin than money, he has taken the direct strategy and approach of moving to suppress the Ukrainian people’s rights, brutally, with a jack boot and a rifle. His political opponents are languishing in prison, and yet the people of Ukraine are crying out to be free. You cannot help but watch the scenes of hundreds of thousands of people braving bitter cold - all of us bundled up in our jackets because it’s a little bit nippy in Washington – go to the streets of Kiev, with the brutal winter barreling down. Yet, you see the proud Ukrainian people standing up to be free, they don’t want to be dominated by Putin’s Russia, they want to stand free and they want to stand with the West.
It makes a difference for Russia, obviously for Ukraine, for Europe, for America and for the world if Ukraine is allowed to be free, allowed to join the West, allowed to be an ally and stand with the United States or if they are crushed by Russians dominance. We have a stake in that outcome, and yet this administration has been far too silent.
There is a striking op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili where he describes one Ukrainian protester, beaten, stripped down naked, and made to stand in the freezing cold, and yet what is incredible is what he describes is that Ukrainian protester standing unbowed; freezing, beaten, bleeding, and yet unbowed. Those are the stories of human perseverance in the face of evil that won the Cold War. The US needs to be making absolutely clear that we stand with those who are protesting for freedom.
We should consider both short-term and long-term steps, right now, to impact what’s happening in Ukraine, including 1) a free trade zone, possibly including other states such as Georgia, Latvia, Moldova and Estonia, which could have an enormous economic impact particularly in conjunction with the free trade deal the European Union has been discussing. The United States could and should extend immediate free trade to the people of Ukraine right now to demonstrate the West wants you to stand with us and not be subject to dominance by Russia.
In particular, one of the great weapons of blackmail that Russia uses over Ukraine is natural gas. The United States should act vigorously to counteract that, to insulate them from that blackmail. In particular we should share the expertise of American companies right now to assist in the development of Ukraine’s domestic shale gas reserves; we should assist with the construction of liquid natural gas import infrastructure, so that Ukraine is not dependent on Russia with the ability to cut off the gas and cut off their lifeline.
We should move forward immediately to allowing LNG exports from the United States to Ukraine, as the infrastructure is put in place so that Ukraine is no longer dependent on Russia, but that we can help provide the resources in the free market to the Ukrainian people so that they can stand on their own and limit the growing reach and expanse of Putin.
What I want to say in conclusion, is we have nothing to gain by ceding our principles, but abandoning what we believe and giving into Putin and Russia. Several months ago I had the opportunity to interview two Cuban dissidents, Guillermo Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez, who are brave dissidents who have spoken up against the brutal oppression that is communist Cuba. Now that’s something I personally know a great deal about being a son of a teenage immigrant who fled Cuba. My Father was tortured and imprisoned by Batista; my Aunt was tortured and imprisoned by Castro. What was striking listening to Mr. Farinas and Mr. Sanchez was they described how the Castros were trying to follow what they call the “Putin playbook,” in fact they describe it in Spanish as putinismo, and that’s what Raul Castro is doing, is implementing putinismo. And what they describe, from the perspective of people seeing the brutal oppression of communism, is to pretend to liberalize, to get concessions from the United States while at the same time keeping a firm grip on their police state and oppression of the people.
In his September 11, 2012 in an op-ed in the New York Times, Putin wrote that, “And I would rather disagree with a case that President Obama made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” Putin continued “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Now I am going to say something that might surprise you, I agree with Mr. Putin. I agree that if you look through the reaches of history it has been very, very dangerous for tyrants and autocrats and despots when Americans realize we are exceptional and when we stand up and defend liberty whether it was the tyranny of Nazi Germany that brave American GIs bled to free the world from that oppression, or whether it was the grotesque evil that was Soviet communism whose gulags murders millions. And once again the American people, particularly under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, stood up, embraced American exceptionalism and said, ‘we are a nation that recognized every heart yearns to breathe free.’ American exceptionalism has cause tyrants to tumble. So Mr. Putin is right to be nervous about American exceptionalism, and I very much hope Mr. Obama doesn’t follow Mr. Putin’s advice.