News / USA

    Russian Diplomats Denounce US Visa, Banking Bans for Corrupt Officials

    Portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in Russian jail. The US Senate has approved legislation that would end four-decades-old trade restrictions, but also imposes sanctions on Russian human rights violators, December 6, 2012.
    Portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in Russian jail. The US Senate has approved legislation that would end four-decades-old trade restrictions, but also imposes sanctions on Russian human rights violators, December 6, 2012.
    James Brooke
    The U.S. Senate voted 92-4 Thursday to impose visa and banking bans on Russian officials suspected of involvement in human rights violations.

    Immediately after the Senate approved the American bill, known as the "Magnitsky Act," Russia’s Foreign Ministry immediately blasted the legislation and the vote as “theater of the absurd.”

    “The act approved by the Senate will have a negative impact on prospects of our bilateral relations," the Foreign Ministry statement warned. "We have to remind hyperactive adversaries of normal development of Russian-U.S. relations that their effort looks poor.  Nevertheless the Russian side will have to respond."

    But, obscured by the rhetoric, there is a quiet undercurrent of Russian public sympathy for the “Magnitsky Act.”

    The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian lawyer who was jailed and died in prison after he denounced what he called a criminal ring of officials who stole $250 million in tax money.

    Two weeks ago, the Levada Center asked 1,596 Russians nationwide about the bill. About half of those contacted did not want to give their opinion. Of the other half, three-quarters supported American visa bans and bank account freezes on corrupt Russian officials.

    Putin vs. People

    Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader, says Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the wrong side of public opinion on the Magnitsky Act.

    "If you take opinion polls, majority of Russian support Magnitsky Act,” he said in an interview. “It’s interesting because in this case, Putin is going against public opinion."

    Ryzhkov says Russians are highly aware that public officials who steal government money routinely park their loot overseas.

    "All these guys have property outside Russia, money outside Russia, shares outside Russia, and children who are in American universities and British universities,” said Ryzhkov, a former member of Russia’s Duma, or parliament. “And for them, it’s very sensitive."

    The visa ban bill was tied to legislation ending an American restriction on trade with Russia that dates back to the Soviet era.

    Four decades ago, the U.S. Congress adopted that law to force the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate. Today, there is visa-free tourism between Israel and Russia.

    Now, the U.S. Congress is telling Russia: we don’t want to be a playground for your unpunished criminals.

    "People who are guilty of these things ought to go to jail,” said Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democra who co-authored the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. “But if they are not going to go to jail in Russia, they ought not to have the privilege to take their kids to Disneyworld in the United States. Or use U.S. banks to hide their money."

    McGovern and other American congressmen believe similar bans will be passed by parliaments closer to Russia - in Western Europe. About a dozen European parliaments are considering similar legislation.

    "I am still not convinced the killers of Sergei Magnitsky will ever be brought to justice,” he said. “But they ought to know they will be held accountable in other parts of the world."

    U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill later this month. Russian diplomats are vowing a “tough” response to the United States.

    But President Putin may face a dilemma. In public opinion polls, Russians increasingly say corruption is their top complaint against the government.

    In response, Mr. Putin is overseeing an anti-corruption drive that has featured the arrests of several officials and the firing of the defense minister.

    Ryzhkov says that, despite a barrage of hostile coverage by Russian state television, many Russians support bank and visa bans for officials suspected of corruption.

    "It’s a pro-Russian act -- it’s not anti-Russian,” Ryzhkov said of the U.S. legislation. “It’s an anti-Putin act, anti-regime act, anti-elite, corrupted elite. It’s pro-Russian act for millions of Russians."

    With an eye to public opinion polls, the Kremlin may decide to let the new American legislation get lost in the hubbub of Russia's upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora