Senators urge Tillerson to meet with Russian opposition activists

Senators urge Tillerson to meet with Russian opposition activists

A bipartisan pair of senators is urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to meet with Russian opposition activists during his trip to Moscow next week.

In a letter Wednesday, Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Five things to know about the Kaspersky-Russia controversy DHS bans Kaspersky software in federal agencies MORE (D-N.H.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.) asked Tillerson to meet with people such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent activist who has twice been poisoned.

Kara-Murza recently testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State and foreign operations, of which Shaheen and Rubio are members.

“He expressed his hope that you would make time to meet with civil society groups during your upcoming visit to Russia, as your predecessors have, in order to lend U.S. support to their cause,” Shaheen and Rubio wrote to Tillerson of Kara-Murza’s testimony. “We write today in full support of his request.”

The State Department confirmed Wednesday that Tillerson will travel to Moscow on April 12. The State Department release said Tillerson will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials to discuss “Ukraine, counterterrorism efforts, bilateral relations and other issues.”

In their letter, Shaheen and Rubio said Tillerson is uniquely positioned to communicate U.S. support for “democratically-minded Russians.”

“Although President [Vladimir] Putin and his associates have done their best to suppress any attempts to challenge their rule, Mr. Kara-Murza spoke movingly about the many people across Russia, particularly among younger generations, who are advocating for a freer society like those in the former Soviet countries that have successfully transitioned to fully-fledged democracies,” they wrote.

The pair highlighted recent anti-corruption protests in Russia that attracted thousands of protestors, where more than 1,500 were arrested and others were violently dispersed.

Further, they wrote, not a single election held in Russia since President Putin took office has been assessed to be free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

They also referenced Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician assassinated in 2015. 

“The courage shown by Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris Nemtsov and countless other Russians in the face of deadly threats meant to discourage their calls for political freedom deserves our respect and support,” they wrote. “In this spirit, we request that you meet with civil society groups during your upcoming visit to Russia and continue to demonstrate U.S. support for open and democratic societies.”