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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs