Russian Activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Serves as Pallbearer at John McCain's Funeral

Alexander J. Segal's picture

We previously wrote two blog posts about the courageous Russian political dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza survived two near-death experiences after being poisoned by what he believes were Russian agents. I discussed a very interesting interview that he gave after surviving the second poisoning in 2017 [see blog].

Kara-Murza, thankfully alive and well, has been in the news again after the late Senator John McCain chose him to be a pallbearer at his funeral. In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Kara-Murza explained that he met McCain in 2010 in the midst of his work with Boris Nemtsov, a fellow Russian dissident who was assassinated in February 2015.1 Kara-Murza worked with McCain and other members of the U.S. congress to pass the Magintsky Act, which sanctioned certain Russian officials for human rights abuses. He praised McCain for his outspokenness on human rights in Russia and specifically for shedding light on the work done by him and his fellow advocates.

Many of the reports on McCain's choice of Kara-Murza as a pallbearer have focused on the idea that he made the choice as what NPR described as “one last message to Vladimir Putin and … President Trump.”2 Kara-Murza, however, said he was upset by those assertions. He stated that he thinks the choice was “characteristic of Senator McCain's magnanimity in life that he would think of a Russian democracy activist when choosing the people he wanted to be his pallbearers.” He also stated that he believed that McCain's choice of a Russian citizen to be one of his pallbearers is proof that his political positions on Russia were motivated by his core belief in freedom rather than any animus toward the Russian people.

The late Senator McCain was undoubtedly aware that many would look at his choice of Kara-Murza as a pallbearer through the lens of his strong personal and political disagreements with President Trump. However, Kara-Murza is right in noting that McCain made human rights in Russia one of his top foreign policy priorities in the Senate, and was a true friend of many brave Russian dissidents over the years. Thus, beyond whatever political messages McCain may have been sending, I am sure that he hoped that his selection of Kara-Murza would increase awareness of the important work being done by many courageous activists risking their lives in Russia, and exemplify that there is more to the country than its current government. For these reasons, I hope that news outlets join NPR in examining not only the U.S. political dimensions of McCain's choosing Kara-Murza, but also the actual merits of Kara-Murza's activism that made McCain think highly enough of him to ask him to be a pallbearer at his funeral.


  1. All Things Considered (Transcript). “Leader of Russian Pro-Democracy Movement Remembers His Friend, John McCain.” NPR. Aug. 30, 2018.
  2. See e.g.: Meyer, Josh. “McCain's choice of Russian dissident as pallbearer is final dig at Putin, Trump.” Politico. Aug. 28, 2018.
Russian Activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Serves as Pallbearer at John McCain's Funeral