Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor today and explained the importance of maintaining and expanding U.S. sanctions on Russia until they withdraw from Crimea and respect the sovereignty of Ukraine. Rubio also highlighted the plight of Russian dissidents Vladimir Kara-Murza and Alexei Navalny.
Rubio’s full speech can be watched here, and a partial transcript of his remarks is below.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor
February 8, 2017
Senator Rubio: I know we have all heard recently about the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza who is a Russian political opposition leader. He’s a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin. He works at something called the Open Russia Foundation, an organization of activists who call for open elections, free press and civil rights reforms in Russia. This is an interesting thing to talk about. There's been a lot of discussion on the floor a moment ago about the press and a lot of discussion about elections over the last year and longer. And there's been a lot of discussion about civil rights. Just think about this. This is what the Open Russia Foundation works for on behalf of in Russia. Now in America when you believe that civil rights are being violated at this moment in our history or you think the election system isn't working the way it should or you're defending the press as my colleagues have done here today in the right of a free press, you have a bad blog post written about you, someone may run against you for office, cable commentators will say nasty things about you on the other side. Maybe they'll stand on the floor and criticize you. Let me tell you what happens when you do that in Russia. They poison you. Kara-Murza, believed to have been poisoned in February of 2017 after he experienced organ failure and is currently in the hospital, just this month. This comes two years after another suspected poisoning nearly killed him in May of 2015. And I want to take a moment to urge the administration to do everything in their power to ensure that he's receiving the medical care he needs and to help determine who was behind the latest apparent attempt to harm him.
If this was an isolated case you would say maybe something else happened. There is an incredible number of critics of Vladimir Putin that wind up poisoned, dead, shot in the head in their hotel room, found in the street and other things. Another instance just today we have an article in the Wall Street Journal that someone was thinking about running against Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny. He was thinking about running for president. What happens in America when someone thinks you're going to run for president, they do an opposition research file, they plant negative stories about you, they start bad mouthing you on cable news. Unpleasant no doubt. He was found guilty by a kangaroo court of corruption which of course, according to Russian law, finds him guilty, blocks him from running in next year's presidential election. So, again, if this was an isolated case, you would say maybe this guy did something wrong. The problem is just about anyone thinking about running for office or challenging Putin winds up poisoned, dead, in jail or charged and convicted of a crime.
The second thing he's just completely cracked down on internal dissent. There is no free press in Russia. And I would venture to guess if I controlled 80-90 percent of the press reported about me, I’d probably have approval ratings in the 80's and 90's as well. Pretty good deal for the leader, but not for the people.
The third thing that is part of this effort is they're basically doing everything they can, Vladimir Putin, to undermine the international order built on democracy and respect for human rights. And I think the example of that is in various places. Look at what's happened in Syria. Vladimir Putin gets involved in Syria not because he cares about humanitarian crisis because, in fact, Russian forces conducted airstrikes in civilian areas. We've seen the images. It's undeniable that it happened. It is by every definition of the word a war crime to target civilians with military weaponry. That's what's happened in Syria.
There are some, including in the administration, who believe that maybe we can do a deal with Vladimir Putin where he helps us fight against ISIS and in return we lift sanctions. And the argument that I have people -- people say why wouldn't we want better relations with Vladimir Putin and enlist them in the fight against ISIS? I come here today in the context of everything I’ve laid out to tell you why I think that is unrealistic and deeply problematic. Here’s number one: why do we have to do a deal with Vladimir Putin to fight ISIS? He already claims that he is. In fact that's the way he describes their operations in Syria as an anti-terror operation. There is no more dangerous terrorist group in the world today than ISIS. There is certainly no more dangerous and capable terrorist group in Syria today than ISIS. Isn't that what he's already doing? Why would we then have to cut a deal to encourage him to do what he claims to already be doing? There is only two reasons. Number one, we think he should do more which in and of itself tells you he's not doing it. Or number two, because he's not doing it now. Here's the second problem, this argument that as part of this whole effort with Russia, one of the things we would be able to achieve is to break them from the Iranians, to create some split between the Russians and the Iranians. I saw an article the other day talking about that as part of this endeavor. My argument to you that we don't really need to do that. That's going to happen on its own because say what you want as soon as these conflicts -- as soon as ISIS is destroyed and Syria and Iraq are in both the Iranians are going to immediately not just push to drive the Americans out of the region, but drive the Russians as well. The Iranians are not interested in replacing American influence in the region with Russian influence. They want to be the hegemonic power in the region. This argument that we somehow could peel them apart, that's going to happen on its own. If we abandon there tomorrow, the Iranians would immediately turn to driving the Russians out as well because they want to be the hegemonic power. They have long desired to be the hegemonic power in the region. And that is going to put them in conflict with the Russians sooner rather than later at some point here, at least to some level.
The Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin has basically violated every agreement that they have made now and in the past. They're violating the cease-fire. They violated all sorts of arrangements with regard to arms reductions. And they'll continue to do that in any deal that anyone cuts with him. The second is one of the first things he's going to ask for is the lifting of all sanctions for both Ukraine and for interference in our elections in return for no changes to the status in Ukraine and no promise of not undertaking efforts like what happened here in the future. The third thing they're going to demand is recognition of a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, especially places that are now countries but were once part of the Soviet Union. In essence, a United States acceptance officially or otherwise, that there are countries in the world who are not allowed to enter into economic or military engagements with the United States unless Russia allows it. You think about that. They are basically going to ask us to play some sort of game of geo-political chess where we basically turn over the sovereignty and the future of other nations and basically say to them, look, there are these countries in the world and we're not going to try to do anything with them, economic, political, culturally, socially or militarily unless you give us permission to do so. This would be a requirement. It is one of the things he insists upon and he would also, by the way, require I think the United States to support pulling back NATO troops and equipment and personnel and operations from nations in Europe which would be devastating to the NATO alliance which is one of his other goals is to render NATO feckless and irrelevant.
I just don't think that's a price worth paying in exchange for alleged cooperation against ISIS, that he claims to already be conducting, and in exchange for basically sending a message to the world that America is your ally unless there's a better deal in it with us, with someone else. That would be devastating.
So what do I think we should do? And what I hope the Senate will do if in fact there is an effort now or at any time in the future by anyone to change or conduct a deal of this magnitude? I think the first thing we need to do is be committed to the principle that these sanctions that are in place should remain in place until the conditions in those sanctions are met, until the sovereignty of Ukraine is respected, until these efforts to undermine democracy and spread misinformation are fully accounted for.
Our quarrel is not with the Russian people and that we desire for Russia to be powerful and influential in the world, that we want Russia to be prosperous, that there is no benefit to us that this country does not view this as a zero sum gain, that we do not believe that in order for America to be influential, Russia must be less influential. Our quarrel is not with Russia. Our quarrel is unfortunately with a leader who does view it as a zero sum gain, as a leader who has come to believe in Vladimir Putin that the only way for Russia to be more important is for America to be less important, a leader who has chosen to undermine an international order based on democracy and free enterprise and human rights that has kept the world out of a third world war. And I think it's important for us to do that. And I think that's important why we need at least be prepared in this body if necessary to move forward with legislation that doesn't just codify existing sanctions but that quite frankly prevents the lifting of those sanctions unless the conditions in those sanctions are met. This is our job. It is true that presidents and administrations have an obligation, a duty and a right to set the foreign policy of the United States. There is no doubt about it. And I think that is true no matter who the president. But it would be a mistake and in my opinion a dereliction of duty for the Senate and the Congress to not recognize that we, too, have a duty to shape the foreign policy of the United States and the power to declare war in the budgets that we pass, in the laws and the conditions that we put in place, in our ability to override vetoes if necessary, even in the process of nominating individuals to serve in the United States government and the executive branch.
We not only have the power, we have the obligation, the obligation to shape and mold and direct the foreign policy of this nation and if we don't, then we are not living up to the oath that we took when we entered this body. And that it's not a political thing. This is not about embarrassing anyone. This is not about a partisan issue. It should never be. In fact, one of the traditions that has existed in this nation for a long time is that foreign policy when it came to issues that impacted the national security of the United States, there was always an effort made to ensure that it was as bipartisan or nonpartisan as possible because when America gets in trouble on national security, there is no way to isolate ourselves on a partisan basis. And it is my hope that even as we debate all these other issues, that we continue to keep these issues in mind because it is critical to the future of our nation.