News / Europe

US Magnitsky Bill Collides With New Russian Nationalism

Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son 's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son 's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.
Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son 's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.
Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son 's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.
James Brooke
Next week, the United States Senate is to take up the Magnitsky Act, a bill that would ban visas for, and freeze the bank accounts of, about 60 Russian officials believed to have been involved in the arrest and death of Sergei Magnitsky.

Reviled by Russian authorities, the legislation has become the touchstone in relations between the West and a newly nationalist Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Three years ago last week, Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian lawyer for an American investment fund, died in a Moscow jail cell. His defenders say he was jailed and killed for exposing the biggest tax fraud in modern Russian history. To this day, no one in Russia has been put on trial.

So last week, the US House of Representatives approved their version of the Magnitsky Act. The measure passed by 365 votes to 43, more than an 8-to-1 margin.

By the end of December, a version of the Magnitsky Act is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama.

Moscow responds

Not so fast, say Russian officials.

“If this is supported by the executive branch, Russia will not leave it unanswered,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow. “We will have to respond - and our response will be tough.”

The spokesman said that approval of this “anti-Russian law” would “inevitably have a negative impact on the entire range of Russian-US relations.”

The American legislation collides with new resistance from the Kremlin to pressure from the West.

Promoting nationalism, Vladimir Putin is getting rid of programs he associates with the 1990s, a time when Russia was weak after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent months, the Kremlin announced it was ending the activities of the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] and the United Nations Children's Fund [UNICEF] in Russia, as well as a joint nuclear cooperation program with the United States.

Boris Kalyagin, a professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, speaks for many Russians when he wonders why the U.S. Congress is singling out Russia. He said that many other countries - Saudi Arabia, for example - violate human rights.

“Why a special law which humiliates, which insults Russians?” asks Kalyagin, who worked in the late 1990s as a Russian TV reporter in Washington. “In the heads of many Russians, this can only be Cold War thinking.”

For the last year, Russia’s state-controlled television has repeated the theme again and again that the West wants to weaken Russia.

David Satter is a Russia specialist at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

“It is certainly true that these appeals to patriotism and to national chauvinism tend to be successful in Russia,” he said during a visit to Moscow. “But people in Russia are well aware of the corruption of the bureaucracy, they are well aware of the corruption of officials.”

European sanctions

This values gap between Russia’s rulers and the West seems destined to grow wider.

Next year, about one dozen parliaments in the European Union plan to consider similar visa and asset bans against Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky case.

Satter said this makes Russia’s ruling class nervous.

“This really undermines their security,” he said of corrupt government officials. “They would like a situation in which they are free to acquire money illegally and corruptly, and can leave Russia, and can freely spend it and enjoy it in the West.”

Meanwhile, the battle lines are drawn up.

With passage of the Magnitsky Act, a virtual certainty next month, Americans in Moscow now are waiting for the second shoe to drop - the Kremlin’s reprisals.

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Comment Sorting
by: Alexander Kruglov from: Russia, Samara city
November 22, 2012 1:58 PM
As Russian citizen I can you say that Russian Foreign Office doesn't express the true opinion of Russian people - they provide you the angry opinion of corrupted employees strongly affected by this issue. In fact the majority of Russian nation support this issue and proposed measures. But this issue will be far more effective if US Cogress add to the persons mentioned in the Sections 5 and 6 of issue their closest relatives - their husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters. The Russian corrupted employees are registering their criminal property in names of their closest relatives. I have sent a letter about this proposal to US cogressmen - Mr McCain and Mr Ben Cardin but their offices didn't respond me at all... As it sings by old Russian popular song: "God bless America - land that I love!"

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
November 22, 2012 12:34 AM
The Magnitsky act, if it truly will do what this article indicates, then it clearly is a very counterproductive/anti US forces act. For as long as the US and NATO are involved in the Afghan quagmire; and +++ having Russia support the ISS; having Russia support the EU with Gas/oil; having Russia support anti terror/anti narcotics/anti piracy activities; having Russia support sanctions on Iran; expansionist overlaping claims/concerns on the China sea issues........ etc etc ---> taking frontal actions against Russia's gvmt elites, is clearly a very inane idea, given that absolute evidence, on the facts of the case, is not available such actions are not good ideas. At the same time, Russia needs to be helped along into making its judicial system more effective and more collectively applicable. I hope the Obama administration reflects the misguided potential result (of this inane new act) = to damage relations with the Russian gvmt, at a time when the US/Russia should be working much closer together.
In Response

by: Alex Kruglov from: Russia, Samara city
November 22, 2012 2:12 PM
"having Russia support sanctions on Iran" - are you really joking??? I'm laughing to drops! Really good joke! Putin's Russia isn't ally of Western countries - it hasn't common values of democracy, fair elections, free trade and fair trial. It blocks all western sanctions against Iran in UN Security Council and supports aggressive foreign Chinese policy against its neighbours. Let open your eyes!

by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
November 21, 2012 9:54 PM
By threatening to launch reprisals for the Magnitsky Act the FSB regime shows it’s losing touch with the reality and logic. After “the reprisals” the regime will be internationally isolated. “Friend” will be just in Byelorussia, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. You’ve got the picture. After short agony the regime will drop down dead and new, post-Putin Russia will emerge.
Adoring J. Stalin, the FSB regime uses the bloody dictator’s tactics. 1) When A.Hitler had launched the war against Stalinist Russia J.Stalin hid his bloody regime behind women’s skirts under the slogan “For Motheland” after he had in cold blood murdered dozens millions of the best patriots . 2) With Pussy Riot the FSB regime hid itself behind sixth century religious texts of the Russian Orthodox Church. 3) “New Russian Nationalism” is a freshly coined term to cowardly slip away after having been caught red-handed in gross violation of basic human rights and rigged elections. Just a distorted mind can claim any logic in such “nationalism”.

by: Tanja from: US
November 21, 2012 5:51 PM
You forgot to mention that the first part of the bill will, repelling the Cold War era Jackson-Vanik amendment, establish permanent trade relationships with Moldova and RUSSIA. And so Kalyagin's remark looks how it is -obviously bizarre. The bill is about Russia, not about 'other countries!

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