Thanks so much for having us here today. It's a really big honour. This is my second time at Parliament but my first experience in this type of environment, so I wrote notes that I'm going to be reading, because this is a little intimidating, even for an Olympian. I'll do my best.
This is an opportunity for me to share a great story and a personal experience that I had with MSF in learning about TB. It began in January. I was invited by a gentleman I met coincidentally, Dr. Unni Karunakara, who was the international president of MSF. Dr. Unni and the MSF team in Toronto invited me to join him on a really incredible adventure. When Unni's term as the international president finished not very long ago, just a few months ago, he decided that he wanted to return home to his country of India after 20 years of being away. He wanted to reconnect with the country to discuss global and local health issues and to raise awareness and campaign on behalf of MSF. He decided to do this by cycling from the north of India to the south of India. He rode 5,673 kilometres in 112 days. I joined him on day 93.
People assume that for an Olympic athlete like me this type of cycling trip would not be too far out of my comfort zone, but it was definitely out of my comfort zone. It wasn't a walk in the park, even for somebody who hurls herself down a concrete track at 130 kilometres an hour. I'm a sprinter, so I don't do a lot of endurance activity for prolonged periods of time, not to mention that I'd never been to India before and had met Dr. Unni only once, two years prior to this big adventure. I anticipated a lot of firsts in my life, and that indeed happened. I said yes to Unni and the MSF team in Toronto right away. It was an incredible opportunity and there was no way that I could say no.
The next question a lot of people ask is “why?” Why become involved in this, why be interested, and why take this chance? I guess the answer is twofold. I spent my life sharing my passion of sport with pretty much anybody who would listen, from government officials, to students in classrooms, to corporations and businesses, and I find people's passions really contagious. For the people I met at MSF, and especially Dr. Unni, I found their passion about MSF really interesting. I became fascinated by this concept of a global community helping to improve the health and well-being of people all over the world.
It's not just that. I also spent over a decade living a fairly selfish lifestyle. Being an athlete is a really selfish thing. You have to be intensely focused on one goal and one objective. Mine was to represent my country at the Olympic Games and to eventually stand on the Olympic podium. Every decision you make has to be about your own needs, and every step you take gets you either closer to or farther away from achieving that goal. It's a pretty selfish lifestyle.
I've competed in sports since I was 12. I represented Canada in four different sports, so it's been pretty much a life decision. It's not purely selfish, as amateur athletes in Canada don't make a lot of money and most of us do the sports we do because of the joy of representing our country and participating in something we love. It's not a journey that we do alone; we have teams of people supporting us. The government supports athletes here in Canada, as do technical experts, sports science experts, coaches, family, and friends. We're really lucky in this country to have so much support behind us, and a lot of athletes search for ways to give back, to do something that's not selfish, and to help people less fortunate than themselves.
Many athletes I know, including me, are just as passionate about charity work, volunteering, and non-profit organizations as they are about their sports. Often, you're given a voice and a platform, and you can talk about things that are important not just to you but to many people. That's how I found myself involved with MSF. They gave me an opportunity not just to raise funds and awareness on behalf of the organization; they gave me a chance to see the medical issues that were facing a country I'd never been to before and to get a true understanding of what it's like to fight a disease like TB by seeing it with my own eyes.
Unni and I biked for three days. On days two and three, we covered over 210 kilometres of Indian countryside between Bangalore and Vellore in the south of India. It was a really incredible experience. You get to experience the culture, the food, the hardships, and the beauty of the country, and you also meet a lot of incredible people. I also had many hours to talk to Unni about his amazing life and his experience in dealing with so many global medical issues through his work as the international president of MSF.
He told me that 25 years ago when he was at school in Bangalore, it was known as the garden city. It was full of trees and flowers and was very beautiful. When I was in Bangalore, it just seemed very polluted and crowded. It seems that in the big cities in India, the population rapidly outgrows the infrastructure.
There are roughly 1.2 billion people in India. We were biking along this very bumpy country road and Unni said to me that every day the number of babies born in India is equivalent to the population of Australia. I never forgot that statistic. It's a pretty alarming number.
Trying to bike through Bangalore was actually one of the most frightening cycling experiences I've ever had in my life. The traffic regulations and the traffic lights are just a suggestion in India and not really a rule. It was one of the many moments I appreciated my home country a little bit more.
Each day we rode into a different state was like being in a new country, because the landscape changes so much and the culture and the food are so different. We covered three states in total. We had a wide range of paved and unpaved roads. When you're on a bicycle for 10 hours a day you are hoping that you get more paved roads than unpaved roads.
After the ride was over I flew to Mumbai and I spent two days learning more about MSF and specifically the projects that they're working on in India. The MSF clinic in Mumbai deals with second- and third-line HIV treatment, hepatitis C, and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis or MDR-TB. Both tuberculosis and MDR-TB are huge issues facing the country of India. They're not alone in this struggle. They also deal with a lot of co-infection at that clinic. I spent countless hours listening to patients, doctors, nurses, and researchers tell me their stories and about all of the different projects and programs that they're running there.
MSF provided me with one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and that's a big statement coming from somebody who's been to two Olympic Games. With a Canadian photojournalist and one of the MSF nurses, we visited an 18-year-old girl with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis in the slums of Mumbai. Just going to the slums of Mumbai alone is a pretty life-changing experience, but when I met this incredible girl and her family at their home, I became truly passionate about raising awareness and funds for this global TB issue.
She is a student, a very good student, actually. She began studying medicine. She and her younger brother are both smart and passionate about school, and decided with their parents that they would take the train to a school farther away to receive better instruction from better teachers.
The trains in Mumbai are a little bit tough to imagine. They're so overcrowded, there are often people hanging from the windows and the doors on the outside of the trains. She believes this is where she caught tuberculosis, in such close proximity with other people. They caught the train twice a day, every day, to go to school.
Her symptoms got worse and worse so her father finally took her to the hospital, where the medical staff performed the most widely used diagnostic test for tuberculosis, which is a sputum test, developed over a century ago. Her test came back positive, so she was put on a regime of very strong TB medication for two years. That's 14,600 pills—over 20 pills a day for two years—and 240 injections, with a list of side effects that make most patients feel worse when they're on the medication than before they started taking it. Permanent deafness is one of the potential side effects of the medication.
During the course of her treatment, she became more and more ill. Her weight dropped to below 70 pounds, she was forced to drop out of school, and she couldn't leave her home. Her family was really afraid that someone would discover her illness and force them out of their house in the slums because of fear, which is a huge part of this disease and diagnosing this disease. Her father became so desperate to save his daughter that he learned to speak English to research other options for her medical care, and that's how he came across the MSF clinic in Mumbai.
Her case was taken on at the MSF clinic, and it turns out she had a very complicated case of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the sputum test, which so many clinics and hospitals use around the world, cannot show the type of TB or the specific type of medication needed. As a result, they gave her the wrong antibiotics and the illness became even more resistant to the drugs that weren't strong enough to kill it, turning her multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis into extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis, obviously accidentally.
When I met this family in January of this year, they were really happy and laughing. She's healthy again after.... She's halfway through her second two-year treatment plan for drug-resistant tuberculosis. She's studying again. She says she's even more determined to be a doctor, and she wants to treat tuberculosis patients. She says she'll be able to understand how frightened they are, and how awful they feel on the drug plan, and how much they should believe in the treatment even though there's no guarantee that it will cure them.
She says she'll be the best doctor in Mumbai, and I'm inclined to agree with her on that topic.
It wasn't just a family that changed my life and inspired me; it was also the team of medical staff at the MSF clinic. They use outdated medicine and diagnostic techniques to save people's lives. Adherence to the treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is so low, and you can understand why. To get someone to take so much medication for such a long period of time seems virtually impossible for the medical staff. TB also affects people with weakened immune systems the easiest. These are the young and the old, the HIV-positive patients and the people with diabetes. It hits poor communities the hardest. Despite the obstacles, the medical teams were really positive and passionate and committed to what they were doing. I kept saying to myself that I wished there was some way I could help more.
There are a lot of issues that Canadians don't have to deal with. TB is unfortunately not one of them. It's a global issue. With the lack of new medicine and diagnostic tools, one of the epidemiologists I met in MSF said that drug-resistant TB was a global crisis.
I'm a really proud Canadian. That's obvious for somebody who has represented their country for so long. It's an important statement. I'm really proud of the commitment that we as Canadians make to causes such as this one. There was a $650-million contribution to the Global Fund to help with HIV, TB, and malaria. It's an incredible amount of money. What's even more impressive is that historically, every time Canada recommits to this fund they increase their support by 20%. That's something we should all be really proud of. It makes me feel even more proud to be Canadian.
In 2009 we also provided a $120-million grant to the Stop TB Partnership to launch TB REACH to help increase case detection of tuberculosis, which is really important in preventing the spread of the disease. I truly believe, however, that without more money being continually invested in research and development, TB will continue to be a global problem, with the painful and frightening side effects of medication used in the six-month or two-year treatment plan causing a lack of adherence to the drugs and causing the number of people who are struggling with the illness to continue to climb. I was telling one of my teammates that we can send people to space and we can clone animals, but we can't find a better cure or detection for an illness that impacts nine million people a year. It's kind of a crazy idea.
Without money being invested into R and D to update the diagnostic tools or techniques, patients like the girl I met in Mumbai will continue to be misdiagnosed, causing more drug-resistant or multi-drug-resistant strains of the illness to spread, or perhaps even worse, causing patients to not be diagnosed at all and to go back home to their communities, their families, their loved ones, and continue to spread tuberculosis.
I feel like we can all do something to help. As part of a Canadian campaign and a global initiative, I believe the tide can be turned on tuberculosis. Peter was saying to me this morning that this illness is preventable and it is curable. That gives me a lot of hope for the future.
Great. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you, committee members, for this opportunity to speak on World TB Day.
My background is that I'm a medical doctor, originally from St. Catharines, Ontario. I've been working for over 10 years internationally with Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, so mainly in southern Africa but also in China and India. I helped to support a TB-HIV project operated by MSF in Ukraine as well.
I'd like to show a number of images to you and just talk around these images. The first is of a person who's actually sneezing. You can see when a person sneezes that hundreds, even thousands of little droplets come out. The same thing happens when someone coughs. If a person happens to have active TB disease, amongst these droplets will be some of the TB germs. The point is that TB is an airborne disease. These droplets, some of them tend to be suspended in the air not just for seconds, not for minutes, but sometimes for hours. So if the ventilation is not very good, if someone had been coughing in this room even before we all arrived and the ventilation wasn't good, some of the droplets would still be floating in the air.
The point again is that TB is an airborne disease. It's a public health threat in every single country around the world, so anybody who travels, anybody who spends time in a room with other people or where other people have been is at risk to inhale this TB germ.
It's important to distinguish between drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB. So again, MDR stands for a multi-drug-resistant TB. It refers to a TB germ that's resistant against at least two of the more common and powerful drugs we would normally use to cure TB. So some of the differences between drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB are that drug-sensitive TB can be diagnosed using the microscopy test that Helen referred to, so a relatively simple procedure looking under a microscope; whereas MDR-TB requires a higher-level lab. In a resource-limited setting such as a number of places MSF supports, this lab doesn't necessarily exist, so it's more difficult to make a diagnosis of drug-resistant TB.
Again, TB can be cured. It normally takes around six months for drug-sensitive TB, but it can take 20 months or more for MDR-TB. The number of drugs to cure drug-sensitive TB is four, commonly in a fixed dose combination, so an easy to take regime for drug-sensitive TB. But this number increases to six drugs including a daily injection to cure MDR-TB.
The side effects of using drugs to treat drug-sensitive TB, although they are possible, we don't tend to see them as much. Whereas with MDR-TB, the possible side effects become probable. The cost to cure one case of drug-sensitive TB is less than $100. For MDR-TB, it's over $5,000 just to cure one single case.
This is an image from the clinic that Helen visited in Mumbai. It's a woman who has active TB. She happens to have drug-resistant TB, and the second image is the number of pills that she has to take every single day, in addition to this injection. This image shows that drug-resistant TB takes up to two years to cure. It's quite a long and involved process involving again lots of pills and the possibility of side effects, sometimes quite severe, ranging from hearing loss to intractable nausea and vomiting, to mental health issues, to kidney issues and liver issues.
It's a difficult regimen to take. You can probably understand that when people start to feel better in terms of the TB symptoms they often want to stop this treatment early, the problem being that it doesn't cure the TB and the symptoms will come back again in time.
One of the most important issues is that most of the people—81%—with drug-resistant TB either are not diagnosed in the first place or are diagnosed and don't receive effective treatment. Of the 19% who do, only half are cured, so this difficult treatment regimen that I've described—up to two years—is actually only successful in curing people about half the time. You can see that most of the people with drug-resistant TB are never cured. When somebody is not cured, they tend to go on with their daily activities. They are going to work with a cough, travelling on public transport, and exposing other people to the drug-resistant TB germ.
Shown on this page is a website that MSF has helped to set up. It's called “Test Me, Treat Me”. It's a drug-resistant TB manifesto. The woman you see shown is from South Africa. Her name is Phumeza. She has a story similar to that of the patient in Mumbai that Helen described. She had TB. She did not receive the correct treatment the first time around. Her drug-resistant TB turned into XDR-TB, which refers to a drug-resistant TB that's even more resistant than MDR. She took the treatment. She was eventually cured, but in the process she developed profound hearing loss. She worked together with her health care provider to tell her story. Together, they created this manifesto that talks about all of the difficulties and the need for better treatment.
I would ask committee members, if you have time, to take a look at this website, and if you agree with what's presented there, actually sign this manifesto, which is all of us creating a voice for urgent change.
Again, the issues include difficulty in diagnosing drug-resistant TB. Even if the drug-resistant TB is diagnosed properly, many people don't actually get treated properly. When people don't get treated properly, they continue to cough these drug-resistant TB germs in communities around the world. Also again, this is a public health threat that is not going away. It's getting worse over time, not better. We need to work together, including investing more in research and development, to create a better, more realistic treatment regimen that can be scaled up, so that we can take that number of less than 20% who need the treatment and increase it to closer to 100%, such that people around the world who need the treatment actually get it.
Thank you very much for being here. This is a very important issue and is one with which Canada is very much seized in regard to this opportunity.
You talked about the $650 million that Canada has pledged for the Global Fund. I was at that replenishment conference in Washington in December, and I was very proud to make that announcement on behalf of Canada. Indeed, it is a 20% increase over what we have given in the past. The real problem is that pledges are made but not followed through on, so we have a disparity between what we say is available and what truly comes through.
I'm sure, Doctor, that this is what you deal with in the field. I'm proud to say that our government has always paid what it has pledged. Canadians can be very proud that we have taken that initiative and have made sure that it happens.
Again, one of the very reasons why we have untied our aid.... I know that my colleague has talked about that bill, but we know that bill is never going to work because we have intellectual property rights that have to be respected. In response to that, we have said, “Let's untie our aid so that these medicines can be purchased at the best possible global price.” That's driving the price down, and we know that the access is being increased, because untied aid means that they can deal with that money in the very best way they possibly can.
I was in Bangladesh with Results Canada, Ms. Upperton. We had a little chat about that at lunchtime. I've been to those places. I've seen the desperate circumstances in which people live. The transfer of tuberculosis has to be one of the most frightening things that people are dealing with in some of these slum areas.
Doctor, one of the things that I saw in Bangladesh was the training of what they call shasta shabikas. They are women, for the most part, who are being trained to do the very elementary testing in order to have people.... They can get the results from the laboratories much more quickly than can some of the other mechanisms that are available. We've invested a great deal in maternal, newborn, and child health and one of the things that we want to see happen is trained people getting out into the field in order to help make this early diagnosis. Can you talk a bit about how that reach is happening in countries where you have been?
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am honoured to appear before the committee today on behalf of the International Republican Institute, IRI. We thank the committee for its kind invitation to offer our thoughts regarding the situation in Ukraine and to share with you some insights on the activities of IRI. I am pleased to follow up also on the earlier exchange the committee had with IRI's president, Ambassador Green.
Mr. Chairman, not since it became independent in 1991 has Ukraine had such an opportunity to reform its political, economic, and judicial systems. At the same time, Ukraine faces existential threats from both external and internal actors. It is critical that the international community support the democratic process in Ukraine, especially to ensure a transparent presidential election in May. That election is important for stabilizing the country and empowering the new government to implement these long-term reforms.
Former President Yanukovych's sudden reversal on European integration in November 2013 precipitated spontaneous protests by Ukrainian citizens throughout the country, with the biggest in Kiev. The Ukrainian government attempted to suppress the movement, popularly known as the Euromaidan, or European square, by brutally beating those involved, most of whom were students.
As a result of the government's brutal crackdown on November 30, up to a million Ukrainians from across the country flooded into the capital to exercise their right to protest peacefully. Violence erupted again in January and in mid-February during which government forces utilized rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons against the peaceful protestors. In spite of the increased aggressiveness and number of casualties, protestors refused to give up Independence Square, the centre of the Euromaidan movement in Kiev.
As a result the government positioned snipers throughout the city who indiscriminately shot at protestors. On February 21, finally, opposition leaders signed an agreement with former President Yanukovych to, among other things, conduct presidential elections no later than December 2014.
The agreement, however, was not accepted by Euromaidan protestors, and Yanukovych fled the capital effectively abdicating the presidency. In his absence the parliament voted for Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president on February 22, and on the same day, set early presidential elections for May 25, 2014. The parliament also voted to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had spent more than two years in prison on politically motivated charges.
Displeased with developments in Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev asserted that the developments constituted an “armed mutiny”, ignoring the fact that Ukraine is an independent country. At the end of February after the eyes of the world had moved from the region and the Sochi Olympics, Russian forces invaded the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, first taking control of the Crimean parliament, followed by naval bases and military outposts throughout the region.
On March 16 Russia-occupied Crimea called for a referendum with two options on the ballot: to join Russia or to increase autonomy. There was no option to maintain the current status quo. The referendum was rightly deemed illegal by the international community. Of specific note, the vote was boycotted by the Crimean Tatar community, an indigenous population of Crimea who were forced into exile to central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944 and were only able to return to Crimea following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Crimean Tatars have been considered among the most progressive actors on the peninsula, having most adamantly supported the Euromaidan movement. The Qurultay, their governing body, was not initially a directly elected entity. At their own initiative in May 2013, the Crimean Tatars held their first direct elections to this representative body. IRI, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development, observed the 2013 Qurultay elections. The elections were the only elections to have been held under former President Yanukovych's regime that met with international standards.
Although Russian President Putin attempted to persuade the Crimean Tatar leadership to support the March 16 referendum with promises of government positions and security, the Tatar leadership refused. It was not lost on the Tatar community, and it should be remembered by the international community, that among the first casualties of the Russian invasion of Crimea was a Crimean Tatar activist, Reshat Ametov, whose body was found with signs of torture after his kidnapping.
The March 16 Crimea referendum showed official results of 97% of voters choosing to join Russia. However according to an IRI survey conducted in May 2013, only 23% of Crimean residents supported joining with Russia. Although somewhat dated, the poll provides an accurate snapshot as it was taken during a time of peace and reduced tension. In the same poll, IRI found that 53% of Crimean residents supported maintaining the status quo with Ukraine. This is in sharp contrast with the official results announced 10 days ago in Simferopol with Russian troops on the streets.
While Russia appears to be consolidating its power on the Crimean peninsula, it has also been escalating tensions in eastern and southern Ukraine. As the conflict erupted in Crimea, pro-Russian groups appeared in eastern Ukraine, attempting to take over government buildings and demonstrate support and unity with Russia.
In the last few weeks, several Ukrainians have been killed by these pro-Russian groups, who have clashed with pro-Ukrainian demonstrators in the cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv. In both cases, evidence points to pro-Russian groups attempting to create provocations, disrupt public order, and give the impression of an unstable political situation in which ethnic Russians or Russian speakers were under threat.
These events have had a profound impact on the political situation in Ukraine. New political forces have emerged from the Euromaidan movement, while others have been diminished. Interim President Turchynov and the parliament sought to move quickly to stabilize the evolving situation by creating a new government within a week of the former president’s abandonment of the presidency.
The new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has promised to undertake difficult economic and political reforms and to set the course for Ukraine’s European integration. On March 20 Yatsenyuk signed an association agreement with the European Union and officially announced the government’s plans to accelerate economic and political ties with Europe.
With the presidential election set for May 25, potential candidates have until the end of March to announce their candidacy. Thus far, boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, has announced his intention to run on a platform promising Ukraine’s European integration. In addition to Klychko, outspoken leader of the Right Sector, Dmitry Yarosh, has also announced his intention to run, most recently calling for a policy of Ukrainian non-alignment. Sergiy Tigipko, from the former president’s party, the Party of Regions, has also announced his candidacy, calling for a complete overhaul of the political system. We understand that prominent businessman Petro Poroshenko is also considering entering the race. Finally, it is expected that Yulia Tymoshenko will announce her candidacy.
The goal of the IRI's assistance in electoral processes, with support from USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, is to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election meets international standards. If Ukraine, particularly its eastern section, can administer an election that is peaceful, open, and transparent on May 25, it has the opportunity to continue as an independent and sovereign country and will be able to continue on a democratic, constitutional, and western path. The west must do everything it can over the next two months to assist in this endeavour, and this must be our collective priority. In addition, transparent elections would create space for Ukraine to be able to develop sound economic policies and continue to build its democratic institutions. In light of this, it is difficult to overstate the importance of a free, fair, and well-administered presidential election on May 25 for the future of the country.
However, Ukraine will not be able to achieve this short-term goal if it continues to have to face the threat of an armed invasion of its eastern and southern territories. It is incumbent upon the west to use all means at its disposal to deter any such external threat.
The IRI began programming in Ukraine in 1994, working with numerous funders from the United States, Europe, and Canada. The IRI has sought to support the development of national, broad-based, and well-organized political parties. It has done so by providing parties with regular national public opinion data to inform their decision-making processes. The IRI has also sought to use this polling data as a mechanism for building coalitions among like-minded parties by focusing on issues. The IRI regularly provides political parties and candidates with campaign trainings on message development and voter targeting. Currently, the IRI is providing such trainings in the lead-up to the May 25 election.
The IRI has also sought to promote democratic governance across Ukraine. Often in Ukraine, local elected officials are unaware of their rights and responsibilities. In addition to conducting trainings to inform officials of these rights, the IRI recently began to create a network of reform-oriented local elected officials. In conducting its initial trainings, the IRI observed that local officials in one part of the country were often not aware of reforms their counterparts were conducting in other cities in the country. Therefore, the IRI sought to connect these officials by conducting study trips and exchanges, such as taking officials from Crimea to observe best practices in western Ukraine. The IRI seeks to expand this program in the future, with a particular focus on building bridges between local elected officials in eastern and western Ukraine.
Finally, a critical component in ensuring transparent and free national elections is the participation of non-partisan international observers to monitor election day and bring legitimacy to the result. The IRI has fielded an election observation delegation in every presidential and parliamentary election in Ukraine since the country declared independence in 1991. As a result of these observation missions, each delegation issued a comprehensive report following the elections, which served as the basis for subsequent reforms instituted by the Ukrainian Central Election Commission.
In conclusion, after the May 25 election, the IRI plans to continue its work, including providing assistance to the new government as it builds democratic institutions based on the principle of accountable representation.
The immediate objective for the international community must be to help Ukraine create a sense of stability and security so that it can conduct the May 25th election in a transparent manner. This will then help Ukraine to be able to focus on the economic, judicial, and political reforms it needs to undertake.
Again, Ukraine cannot achieve stability if its primary focus is on securing borders against possible military invasion. Therefore, the west must continue to do what it can to minimize pressure on Ukraine’s borders in the south and in the east.
Thank you for your attention. I am happy to answer any questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It’s a great honour for me to present testimony on Ukraine to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons. It is also great for our two capitals to be linked electronically.
Let me note also that at the beginning of the hearing we heard Canadian bipartisanship, and that's also reflected in the National Endowment for Democracy. Michael represents our Republican institute, but we also have a Democratic Party institute, and we're all working together on the issue of Ukraine.
The Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, backed up by President Putin's revanchist doctrine enunciated in his appalling speech on March 18, threatens more than Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity. In the words of this week’s The Economist magazine:
||...it poses a broader threat to countries everywhere because Mr Putin has driven a tank over the existing world order.
Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler, and Russia today does not pose as ominous a threat as Nazi Germany did in 1938-39, yet the analyst Anders Aslund is correct in drawing deeply disturbing parallels between Putin's emotional, belligerent, and self-pitying speech in the Kremlin and Nazi Germany’s public discourse in the years leading up to World War II, in particular Hitler’s speech declaring war against Poland. These parallels include defining nationality by language and ethnicity and not by statehood, reserving the right to intervene to support ethnic Russians anywhere, emphasizing historical grievances, claiming that borders were drawn wrongly, charging that post-Soviet leaders betrayed Russia, justifying the annexation of Crimea with a rigged referendum, and holding the west at fault for the current crisis, just as Hitler blamed the duplicity of the United Kingdom and France for his attack on Poland.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, looking for ways to contain and not inflame the present crisis, prefers the analogy of 1914 to that of 1938. The implicit assumption here appears to be that the main danger is not a belligerent and revanchist power but the possible failure to anticipate and prevent the carnage that may lie ahead. However, the 1914 analogy also raises other troubling parallels between the world of 1914 and today: the complacency of affluent democracies, the assumption that economic globalization has overcome nationalist divisions, the belief that emerging global norms obviate the need for diplomacy backed up by military deterrence, and the instability created when, as George Weigel said in a recent lecture on the origins of the Great War, “the great powers that stand for order in the world [remain] idle while the forces of disorder gather strength.”
Some foreign policy realists have argued that Russia today is simply defending its interests within its own sphere of influence, but that argument completely sweeps aside the essence and the source of the Ukraine crisis. It did not come about because the European Union or the United States was challenging Russian interests in its “near abroad”, as Russia calls the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. It happened because millions of people in Ukraine rose up against a thieving kleptocracy and demanded accountability and the rule of law.
Are we to ignore the aspirations of the people of Ukraine or subordinate them to the demands of geopolitics? In his March 18 address, Putin charged that the Euromaidan movement was controlled by nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites, who resorted to terror, murder, and riots to seize power. Here he shows himself to be a worthy successor to the Soviet rulers and a true product of the KGB, for he has elevated the big lie to the pinnacle of its political discourse. He has revived the Orwellian inversion of the truth as a tool to justify actions that are otherwise indefensible. He reminds us of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in his Nobel lecture in 1970, that anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle. Our task, Solzhenitsyn said then, is to defeat the lie.
That is what the Ukrainian Jewish leaders did on March 5, when they joined together to denounced Putin's “lies and slander” and declared, and this is a quote:
||...we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government—which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.
The charge that the Euromaidan movement was led by Russophobes is also a lie. The Economist notes that many of those gunned down on Independence Square by Mr. Yanukovych's snipers were from the Russian-speaking east.
When the former Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky recently spoke on the Maidan to tens of thousands of Ukrainians, praising their popular and multi-ethnic revolution for freedom and dignity, the Ukrainians chanted in response, “Glory to Russia! Glory to Russia!”
Responding to the Russophobe charge, Timothy Snyder, the author of the famed study Bloodlands, which tells the story of the slaughter of some 14 million non-combatants by Stalin and Hitler before and during World War II, writes:
||There is a country where millions of Russian-speakers lack basic rights. That country is the Russian Federation. There is a neighbouring country where tens of millions of Russian-speakers enjoy basic rights—despite the disruptions of a revolution and Russian invasion. That country is Ukraine.
Putin's real Ukraine problem, Snyder writes, is not Russophobia, but the fact that Ukraine is a country of “free people who speak freely in Russian, and might set an example one day for Russians themselves.” What Putin fears, in other words, is a Maidan in Moscow, and all of his demagogy, as well as his attempt to reimpose Russia’s rule in the near abroad, is an attempt to prevent that from happening. This fear lends a special irony to Putin's repeated pretension that Russia and Ukraine, as he said in his Kremlin speech, “are one people” and “we cannot live without each other”.
As we defend Ukraine's freedom, therefore, we cannot forget Russia's. We must remember that there is another Russia, the Russia of the exiled Khodorkovsky; the Russia of such courageous people as the late Andrei Sakharov, Anna Politkovskaya, and Natasha Estemirova; and the Russia of countless activists on the front lines of the struggle today, who are now in the greatest danger, with Putin, in his Kremlin address, having designated them as a fifth column and a disparate bunch of national traitors.
Putin has enjoyed a brief spike in popularity with his nationalist demagogy. But discontent in Russia is as great under Putin as it was in Ukraine under Yanukovych, and there is just as much hatred of corruption and bribe-takers. This discontent is likely to intensify as the consequences of Russia's and Putin's imperialist overreaching begin to be felt in the form of expanded budget deficits, shrinking foreign direct investment, and greater capital flight, which the exiled Russian economist Sergei Guriev notes could not come at a worse time since the Russian economy is now stagnating.
As we look to the future I believe we need to focus on three core priorities. The first is to do everything possible to help Ukraine take advantage of the Maidan-inspired breakthrough to become a successful democracy that fulfills the hopes for dignity and freedom for which so many Ukrainians have sacrificed and given their lives.
The most urgent need, in addition to providing the resources needed to stabilize the Ukrainian economy, will be to help Ukraine conduct free, fair, and peaceful presidential elections on May 25. This will involve support for both domestic and international monitors, for civil society groups promoting voter education and mobilization campaigns, and for independent media. Monitoring and countering the efforts by Moscow to delegitimize the new government by disrupting the election in the east and south of the country will also be extremely important.
It will also be necessary to strengthen Ukraine's defence capabilities and to begin the process of helping it diversify its energy resources.
The second priority is to deter further Russian aggression by strengthening NATO and the defence capabilities of front-line states and by bolstering Georgia and Moldova. Sanctions should be intensified by adding new names of Putin's economic and political allies to the list announced last week and ending Russian participation in the G-8 and its process of accession to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Such steps, in addition to their political and security benefits, will also give encouragement to Russia's democrats. One of them wrote to us last week asking us to convey his gratitude to the tougher sanctions that President Obama announced on Thursday. He conceded that in response to the sanctions Putin's repression could get even harsher. I quote, “harassment and maybe even arrests and violence await us. But it is still a great happiness to feel the real support of your country and your people. You can’t imagine how important it is! Because it provides hope: our struggle is not in vain.”
Indeed it isn't, and this raises the third priority, which is that all of us—the United States and its allies, parliamentarians, and members of civil society—must speak with a clearer voice on the issue of democracy and human freedom. For various reasons, including a preoccupation with solving difficult domestic problems, the world’s democracies have not been projecting a vision of what they believe in and stand for morally and politically.
What has happened in Ukraine is an opportunity to regain a sense of democratic purpose. This is not just because we face a more urgent security challenge than we did before Russia annexed Crimea and Putin enunciated his new doctrine. It also has to do with the example set by the Euromaidan, which was a movement for civic renewal and a declaration of dignity. That movement has really just begun, and very difficult tasks lie ahead, but if Ukraine succeeds in its historic quest for democracy, it will make possible something that was talked about in 1989 but never fully realized—a Europe whole and free. If that happens, we will all live in a much safer, a much freer, and a more peaceful world.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We had a Russian specialist who came to NED last week and gave a talk. She said that she had no idea, and she is from Russia and she is a specialist, so I don't want to pretend to know. I don't have a crystal ball.
But what I said in my testimony is something that I deeply believe. We have to remember that Russia is a country that has really, for a long time, been in the middle of an existential crisis, not only an economic crisis but also a demographic crisis. Its population has been going down. With all of these terrible problems that Russia faces—the corruption, the health problems—for Russia to now reach out in an imperialistic way to take over other peoples, the cost of that is going to be extraordinary.
Last year there was $63 billion of capital flight from Russia. That capital flight is going to increase as wealthy people in Russia try to protect their resources against what they think is a very insecure situation.
There was $80 billion of direct foreign investment in Russia. That investment will go down as it becomes obviously more difficult to invest in Russia, and there will be rules against it. I expect that the economic crisis of Russia is going to intensify.
There is also a profound hatred in Russia among the common people for bribe-takers. According to a poll released by the Russian Academy of Sciences, 34% of the people in Moscow said that they'd like to shoot bribe-takers on sight, and that two-thirds of Muscovites would like to do that. There is this hatred.
Now, Putin is saving himself—or he thinks that he's saving himself—by trying to whip up nationalist hysteria. Indeed, he has had a temporary spike in popularity, but that is not going to continue.
We should think of the Russian economy today as a kind of Potemkin economy. There is something false about it. They do have wealth. They do have resources. They will be able to accomplish certain aggressions, but ultimately I believe that the contradictions of the Russian economy will sharpen, the discontent will grow, and the activists who are now isolated will become much more influential in the period ahead, in my view.