Our moral equals are dissidents fighting tyranny and corruption, not those inflicting it.
The courageous Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza would like to see the governments of Russia and the United States become moral equals — to know that both protect their peoples’ rights to liberty and equal justice, and that both are comparable forces for good in the world. He has dedicated his life to that end.
He now fights for his life in a Moscow hospital bed, poisoned by an as yet unknown substance likely on the order of a Russian regime that believes morality is weakness and an impediment to national greatness. The autocrat at the head of that regime, Vladimir Putin, operates like the boss of an organized crime syndicate that robs and oppresses the Russian people, and causes immense harm and suffering in the world.
On Putin’s order, Russian forces invaded Russia’s neighbors, seized their territory and continue to undermine their independence.
On Putin’s order, Russia intervenes in Syria not to fight terrorists but to abet the war crimes of the Assad regime. Russian bombers deliberately target aid workers and hospitals. They threaten Syrian freedom fighters trained by the U.S. They are allied with our enemies in the Middle East and trying to weaken our friendships there.
On Putin’s order, Russian security services try to destabilize NATO allies the U.S. has sworn to defend. They interfered in our presidential election and are conducting cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to support Putin allies in European elections and destroy the European Union.
On Putin’s order, corrupt apparatchiks and crony oligarchs rob Russians of their nation’s wealth and resources.
On Putin’s orders, brave dissidents, rival politicians, honest lawyers, truth seeking journalists and disobedient oligarchs have been jailed or murdered.
Putin’s Russia is our adversary and moral opposite. It is committed to the destruction of the post-war, rule-based, world order built on American leadership and the primacy of our political and economic values.
From that world order, the United States has accrued vast wealth and power, and a greater share of humanity than ever has escaped tyranny and poverty. Its preservation must remain the first security priority of the United States government.
There is no placating Putin. There is no transforming him from a gangster to a responsible statesman. Previous administrations have tried and failed not because they didn’t try hard enough, but because Putin wants no part of it. He rejects our values and our vision of a free, stable, peaceful, prosperous international order.
Putin wants a return to a world of competing great powers, where tactical alliances and rivalries are formed to serve the narrowest national interests and shun the values Americans believe are universal. It is the world of the past, the world before the U.S. became a superpower. It is the world that produced two world wars, colonial empires and dehumanizing ideologies advanced by oppression and slaughter. Its return would be a catastrophe for the United States and the world.
If he could speak, Vladimir Kara-Murza would make these same accusations and raise these same concerns. I’ve watched him fight to bring the Kremlin’s crimes to world attention. I’ve listened to him urge the free world’s opposition to Putinism and inspire his fellow Russians to demand their human rights be respected by their government.
His is a voice of great moral clarity and compassion, and I hope we will hear it again summoning us to our moral duty. Americans, including our president, need to hear his voice. Russia needs to hear it. The world needs to hear it.
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Vladimir had sanctuary with his family in the United States. He could have remained here in safety. He had been poisoned before. He knew the risks. But he took his values and his courage home to Russia to emulate and promote the example of his friend and comrade, Boris Nemtsov, murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin.
Now those who fear Vladimir’s voice have tried again to quiet it forever. I pray they haven’t, and I ask Americans and righteous people everywhere to be his voice in his absence.
Oppose Russian aggression against the world we have built from the ruined cities and destroyed empires of World War II. Don’t surrender the gains for our security and the progress for humanity that our Cold War victory achieved. Support the Russian people and their rights to liberty and justice, not the corrupt leaders who betray them.
Vladimir Kara-Murza and all who risk their lives to free Russia from tyranny and corruption are our allies. They are our moral equals. And the president of the United States, the nation that has been the greatest force for good in human history, should be the first among us to recognize that.
John McCain, the senior U.S. senator from Arizona, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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