15 people will carry John McCain's casket at his Washington D.C. memorial service on Saturday. The late senator chose them personally for symbolic reasons, and one man is being called a beyond-the-grave condemnation of both Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump. Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza will be one of McCain's pallbearers in yet another final act that puts distance between McCain and the two leaders.
Kara-Murza is an anti-Putin activist and politician, as well as the vice chairman of Open Russia, an NGO that promotes Russian democracy and is blacklisted in the country, according to The Moscow Times. He's been poisoned and nearly died twice, and he told The Independent in 2017 that these attempts on his life were meant to silence him and could have been ordered by Putin himself. Josh Meyer at Politico wrote on Tuesday that he is "perhaps the biggest full-time thorn in Putin's side."
McCain first initiated a relationship with Kara-Murza back in 2010, according to Politico, while the U.S. government was determining its official response to the arrest of dissident Boris Nemtsov. Since then, each has inspired and quoted the other in his work against Putin. Perhaps most notably, Politico notes that they together helped push through the 2012 Magnitsky sanctions that froze some Russian officials' U.S. assets in response to alleged human rights abuses.
In September of 2015, Kara-Murza joined McCain in Washington to accept an award on behalf of Nemtsov, who had been killed that February. McCain said he was "honored" that Kara-Murza was making the trip. "Vladimir, like Boris, has been a leading voice for freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Vladimir Putin's Russia," he told the International Republican Institute. "His commitment to these causes has proven him a true patriot to his country." At the award ceremony, he called Kara-Murza "a personal hero."
McCain continued working with his personal hero and, according to Politico, they grew even closer over the years. Kara-Murza honored McCain with an editorial in The Washington Post on Monday. "Eighteen months ago, when I lay in a Moscow hospital, in a coma after a severe poisoning, McCain took to the floor of the Senate to draw attention to my case," he wrote. "Public attention is often the only protection in these situations; and it certainly was for me."
"Today, speaking for so many Americans, I offer my most heartfelt prayers for the recovery of Vladimir Kara-Murza," McCain said then on the floor, calling him "a brilliant voice who has defied the tyranny of Putin's Russia."
Kara-Murza finished his editorial by describing McCain as "a true leader and a dear friend" and saying that "it will always be among the greatest blessings of my life to know him."
McCain's national memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral. Joining Kara-Murza in bearing his casket will be former Vice President Joe Biden, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, actor Warren Beatty, and former Senator Russ Feingold, among others. A private ceremony in which McCain is put into the ground will be held in Annapolis on Sunday.