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Ranking Member Howard Berman Opening Statement at Hearing, "Russia 2012: Increased Repression, Rampant Corruption, Assisting Rogue Regimes"

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing, “Russia 2012: Increased Repression, Rampant Corruption, Assisting Rogue Regimes.” The statement follows:

“Madam Chairman, this hearing on “Russia 2012” comes at an important time in our bilateral relations. During the past three years there have been some important successes in our new engagement with Russia. But there have also been some disappointing setbacks on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as foreign policy, and I’m afraid the return of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president will make further progress more difficult.

In the run-up to presidential elections earlier this month, Putin once again resorted to the anti-American rhetoric that was a trademark of his nearly decade-long relationship with the Bush administration.

Putin may be the same authoritarian ruler that he was before, but there are hopeful signs that the Russian people’s tolerance for this type of rule has changed since he first assumed the presidency in 1999.

The clearest signs of this change are the protests that occurred after the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections. Neither of these elections was “free and fair” by international election standards. Both were marred by efforts to deny opposition parties and candidates the ability to run, the use of overwhelming administrative resources in favor of Putin and his United Russia Party -- known in the Russian blogosphere as the “Party of Cheats and Thieves” -- and voting day irregularities that have become a hallmark of Russian elections.

In response, over 100,000 people demonstrated near the Kremlin in sub-zero temperatures against the conduct of the December 2011 parliamentary elections. In the months that followed, smaller demonstrations occurred in Moscow and throughout several cities across Russia demanding election reform. It’s too early to tell if this movement will continue into the spring but we should support the Russian people and their renewed civic activism. I for one am hopeful that this burgeoning civil society will prove stronger than Putin and his former KGB cronies.

On the international front, I’m troubled by the repeated statements of Russian officials that Moscow will not support additional sanctions at the UN Security Council to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. On a somewhat more positive note, the Russians recently reaffirmed their September 2010 decision not to provide the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran.

Russia’s policy on Syria is simply wrong and indefensible, and I share Secretary Clinton’s sentiment that the Russian and Chinese veto of the Arab League proposal in the United Nations Security Council was “despicable.” The Russian government must immediately cease its supply of weapons to the murderous Assad regime. I recently offered an amendment to the Syria bill that would sanction those complicit in this deadly business.

Russia’s accession package to join the World Trade Organization is the toughest ever negotiated for a prospective member, thanks to the perseverance and leadership of U.S. negotiators. Since 1994, successive U.S. presidents have granted Russia annual waivers from the application of Cold War era Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions. If the U.S. Congress does not completely graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik and grant permanent normal trade relations, U.S. companies and American workers will not get the full benefit of Russia’s membership in the WTO and the tough accession package we negotiated.

I have serious reservations about the protection of intellectual property in Russia, but am confident that the USTR can finish negotiating an action plan to strengthen the rights of American intellectual property owners before Russia joins the WTO this summer.

Madam Chairman, there is no denying the fact that we have significant areas of disagreement with Russia – including Russia’s record on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, its conflict with Georgia, and Moscow’s arms sales to dictatorial regimes. But focusing only on these issues creates a distorted picture of the complex U.S.-Russia relationship. Nor does it serve our interests to become so fixated on the occupant of the Kremlin that we lose sight of other developments in Russian society.

I look forward to hearing the views of our panel, and their recommendation for how we can best support the aspirations of the Russian people to build a democratic, stable, and prosperous Russian state.”

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