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

US States Where Women Work for Free

Women earn less than men in all 50 states More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows Fight to Death Against IS

In wide-ranging interview, Fuad Masum describes new type of fight that will take time to win More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs