U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, who has been outspoken about Russia’s troubling trajectory, issued the following statement regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Russia seeking greater cooperation in Syria. The Secretary's trip follows Moscow’s recent adoption of so-called anti-terror legislation that bans Russians from sharing their faith outside of a church or other officially authorized house of worship. 

“Secretary Kerry cannot dismiss this simple fact: Russia is not a credible partner. In Syria and in Russia, Putin and his cronies are reviving Soviet-style aggression and oppression under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts. Secretary Kerry must forcefully condemn Moscow’s attacks on American-backed fighters in Syria and its suppression of religious liberty in Russia.”

Background:

Today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departed for Moscow on a mission to foster cooperation with Russia in the war against ISIS in Syria. This trip coincides with two troubling developments.

Religious liberty:

On July 10, President Putin signed so-called anti-terror legislation that would ban Russians from sharing their faith outside of a house of worship. 

Foreign missionaries must demonstrate to the Putin regime that they have been invited by state-sanctioned religious groups. Missionaries who do not meet these new standards face fines and deportation.

These draconian measures have been condemned by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal commission, just last week. “These deeply flawed anti-terrorism measures will buttress the Russian government’s war against human rights and religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “They will make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people.” 

Russia-U.S. Cooperation in Syria:

Secretary Kerry’s trip has been met with strong opposition from some U.S. defense and intelligence leaders who continue to make the case that Washington and Moscow have fundamentally opposed objectives in Syria -- namely, the continuance of the Assad regime. 

When asked about Kerry’s efforts, one U.S. intelligence official observed, "He's ignoring the fact that the Russians and their Syrian allies have made no distinction between bombing ISIS and killing members of the moderate opposition, including some people that we’ve trained … Why would we share intelligence and targeting information with people who’ve been doing that?"