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WASHINGTON, DC – Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke at the National Endowment for Democracy's Symposium on "The Struggle for Russia's Future" honoring Boris Nemtsov this morning. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning. I want to thank the National Endowment for Democracy for hosting today’s event, which I hope will result in some meaningful discussions not only about the current state of affairs in Russia but also the universal strength of freedom and democracy. The brazen and cold-blooded assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27 shocked the conscience of the world and laid bare the danger posed by a Russia that renounces the rule of law, detains peaceful activists, and kills its own opposition leaders.
“When I served as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission from 1985-1994, during the period of transition at the end of the Cold War, I witnessed first-hand the OSCE’s driving principle that how a government treats its own citizens will ultimately affect that country’s foreign policy. Mr. Nemtsov’s murder demonstrates how relevant that principle is today.
“Just a few hours before his murder, Mr. Nemtsov was interviewed by Newsweek and said that Russia was ‘drowning.’ He lamented both the country’s economic decline under Putin and the decline in its people’s freedom. In a statement made all the more powerful because it was among his last, Mr. Nemtsov issued this indictment against the Russian President: ‘He implanted [Russians] with a virus of inferiority complex towards the West, the belief that the only thing we can do to amaze the world is use force, violence, and aggression. He persuaded them that we need to rebuild the former Soviet order, and that the position of Russia in the world depends entirely on how much the world is afraid of us.’
“What Putin is doing in Ukraine stems directly from the fear Nemtsov describes. Putin has set tanks upon Ukraine – in part – to stifle freedom in his own country. The two cannot be separated. It is no surprise that Nemtsov was on the verge of completing a report on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine when he was killed. I was encouraged to learn that this report will soon be published because it will highlight the troubling link between Putin’s assault on the rule of law and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Putin’s use of violence to thwart Ukraine’s democratic objectives should not just offend our moral sensibilities; it should raise alarm bells about Europe’s collective security.
“Although deeply disconcerting, we need not despair. We know what must be done. The United States and our partners in Europe have a responsibility to stand with those in Russia and Ukraine who are struggling for democracy. That was the challenge Ronald Reagan issued in his Westminster speech in 1982, and it is the challenge we must continue to answer in 2015.
“We need to support those like Natalia Pelevine and her colleagues who daily stand up against repression in their homeland and Russia’s aggression against its neighbors. And we need to keep alive the memory of courageous individuals like Sergei Magnitsky in the pursuit of justice. Because of people like them, I believe the forces of freedom will ultimately prevail. Victory is a free and democratic Ukraine, which will accomplish exactly what Putin fears: another neighbor nation with Western values and an example of a successful democracy. President Poroshenko is pushing reforms that will help place Ukraine on a path toward the European Union.
“We are fortunate to have an outstanding panel here this morning, and I hope that today’s discussion will serve to honor Mr. Nemtsov’s memory and his legacy by exploring ways to promote his vision of achieving the freedoms and brighter future that the Russian people deserve. I will continue to speak out in Congress for policies that stand up to Putin’s aggression and support the Russian and Ukrainian peoples’ right to chart their own future through free and fair elections and with respect for justice and individual rights.
“I again want to thank the National Endowment for Democracy as well as our panelists – and all of you for being part of this important dialogue. And I will close with words from President Reagan’s Westminster speech, which I believe still – and must always – apply: ‘What kind of people do we think we are? And let us answer: free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain free but to help others gain their freedom as well.’”