Most observers are expecting Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama to use the first foreign policy debate this coming Friday to discuss U.S. policy toward Russia, and most likely highlight their (at times passionate) disagreements. What many may not realize is that there are still some areas of general consensus by both candidates in this area, as shown by Senate Resolution 322 (DOWNLOAD HERE), signed by Senators McCain, Obama, and Joe Biden, which expresses support for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other political prisoners who have fallen victim to the failures of Russia’s judicial system. Today we have sent out a press release (see below), to remind everyone of this 2005 resolution, and urge the candidates and U.S. voting public not to forget the plight of those trapped in the gulags of contemporary Russia. Realistically, we all recognize that U.S. policy toward Russia is an incredibly challenging subject for both the candidates to discuss in light of the conflict in Georgia, involving complex and sensitive issues ranging from energy security to nuclear proliferation. However, within the cacophony of urgent issues surrounding U.S.-Russia relations, we must not lose sight of these kinds of critical barometers measuring Moscow’s willingness to repair its international reputation and return to the rule of law – a desire expressed by President Dmitry Medvedev himself. This becomes all the more important because it would cost Russia nothing to release these prisoners (apart from bringing accountability to a few corrupt officials), and they would have only everything to gain in terms of their global reputation. Russia can be a difficult country for Westerners to understand, but today more than ever the best measure of change is when we can observe decisions which require courage. At the end of the day, after all the hype and hyperbole we can expect to see in the coming months, there is simply talk vs. action. For Russia’s leadership to take action to reform the legal system, prevent political interference, and release political prisoners would send an important signal that it is truly committed to building trust with its own people and the international community. Until then, talk is just talk.
The following press release was issued via wire this morning:Lawyers Cite Joint McCain-Obama Resolution on Russia and Mikhail Khodorkovsky—Sept. 23, 2008, Washington, D.C. – Today lawyers on the international defense team of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most high profile political prisoner, point to a 2005 bi-partisan resolution supporting him signed by Senators John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, urging the candidates to express their support of political prisoners in the upcoming presidential debates.“In these days of vibrant partisan debate over the future of U.S. policy toward Russia, it’s important to identify areas of consensus, such as this past resolution,” said Robert Amsterdam, a member of the Khodorkovsky defense team. “The release of political prisoners is a test of President Dmitry Medvedev’s determination to address the problem of legal nihilism.”The Senate resolution signed by McCain, Obama, and Biden, dated Nov. 18, 2005, states that “the trial, sentencing, and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev have raised troubling questions about the impartiality and integrity of the judicial system in Russia,” and that their imprisonment represents “a violation of the norms and practices of Russian law.”Khodorkovsky, who has now served five years in prison, recently had an important exclusive interview published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, where he commented that “Both my friends and my foes understand the enormous symbolic meaning of my case for the country, and its meaning for those who have fallen under the steamroller of Russian justice.”The trial and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been recognized as politically motivated and unlawful by outside observers, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Swiss Federal Tribunal.“The issue of judicial reform is one which both Russia and the United States see eye to eye, and would be a tremendous signal to international investors,” said Amsterdam. “No one should forget the sudden rise in the Russian markets when it was briefly thought that Khodorkovsky would be released on parole. Investor confidence, stability, and the enhancement of cooperative international relations are all impacted by the handling of this case.”The full text of the McCain-Obama-Biden resolution, as well as the translation of the Le Figaro interview, are available at http://www.robertamsterdam.com. Information about the Khodorkovsky case is available at http://www.khodorkovsky.info.###