Russian prosecutors last week released a list of Americans they want to question in connection with their bogus criminal case against Hermitage Capital founder William Browder.
I was one of a number of current and former U.S. officials on that list, which has become known as “Putins enemies list.”
Browder, American born but a British citizen, used to be the largest portfolio investor in Russia until he crossed wires with the Kremlin. His visa was revoked in 2005 and his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested in 2008 after uncovering a $230 million fraud by Russian authorities. Nearly a year later, Magnitsky was murdered while in prison after being denied medical treatment and beaten.
Browder launched a campaign seeking justice for Magnitsky, pushing legislation in the U.S. Congress that would deny visas and freeze the assets of Russian officials involved in gross human rights abuses, including Magnitskys murder.
In 2011 and 2012, I was president of Freedom House, the oldest human rights organization in the United States. I had served previously in the State Department in the George W. Bush administration in senior positions dealing with human rights and Russia. I was very familiar with the Magnitsky case and the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia.
Frankly, I was never worried about being turned over to the Russians.
Browder asked me to help him in pushing for the legislation to be passed, and I proudly did so. In late 2012, both the House and Senate passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act by huge bipartisan majorities.
My support for that legislation is presumably why my name appeared last week on Putins list. It took the White House four days to reject the notion of allowing Americans to be interrogated by Russian authorities, even though President Donald Trump had initially dubbed Putins idea “an incredible offer.”
The State Department, by contrast, immediately called it “absolutely absurd,” and the Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning the idea.
Frankly, I was never worried about being turned over to the Russians. I live in the safety and comfort of the United States, where I can freely criticize the Putin regime with little concern for my welfare. Others have not had it so easy. Browder, for instance, whom Putin singled out during his press conference in Helsinki, has been the target of repeated Russian threats, prosecution, Interpol notices and intimidation.
I cannot stop thinking about the blood on Putins hands.
Numerous Russians have been arrested, attacked, poisoned and murdered by the Putin regime, including friends of mine. One, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was shot and killed yards from the Kremlin in 2015. Another, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was poisoned twice while in Russia and miraculously survived. A number of Russian journalists have paid the ultimate price for their brave reporting, including Anna Politkovskaya. The list of suspicious Russian deaths since 2014 alone includes more than 30 Putin critics.
There are the Skripals, the father and daughter who were poisoned earlier this year in the U.K. by Russians using a nerve agent. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent turned Putin critic, was fatally poisoned by Russian assassins in 2006, also in the U.K.
Going back even further, roughly 300 people were killed in suspicious bombings of apartment buildings in Russia in 1999 that helped propel Putin to power. Thousands of innocent Chechens (Russian citizens, by the way) were slaughtered in the subsequent campaign Putin launched exacting “revenge” for those bombings, even though no Chechen had claimed responsibility.
More than 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed since Putin invaded that country in 2014, starting with Crimea and then moving into eastern Ukraine.
In Georgia, another victim of Russian aggression and invasion, Russian forces and their proxies continue to occupy some 20 percent of Georgian territory. Countless Syrian civilians and opposition forces, including ones the United States has supported and trained, have been decimated by Russian bombings in support of the murderous Assad regime.
All of these have been the true victims of Putins rule.
I cannot stop thinking about the blood on Putins hands and his responsibility for so much carnage (to use a word from Trumps own inaugural address) in his own country and beyond Russias borders. I hope Trump is aware of this record.
“We got along very well,” Trump told CNBCs Joe Kernan on Thursday about his meeting with Putin in Helsinki. “Look, the fact is, we got along very well. We, I think, could do great things for his country, but for our country. Im interested in our country. Im also interested in the world.”
And now Trump has invited Putin to a meeting in the Oval Office this fall. Putin has done nothing — repeat nothing — to deserve such an invitation. He is not our friend, he is not even our foe; he is our enemy. I cannot stop wondering why this is happening.
David J. Kramer is senior fellow in the Vaclav Havel Program on Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International Universitys Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs; a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor; and author of “Back to Containment: Dealing with Putins Regime.”