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Influentual US Senator Criticizes Arrest of Russian Tycoon - 2003-11-05

An influential U.S. senator has denounced the recent arrest of the head of Russia's largest oil company as evidence of what he says is growing authoritarianism in that country. Senator John McCain says the United States should respond with political and economic measures.

Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican, expressed concern about recent developments in Russia, including last month's arrest of Russia's richest entrepreneur, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who Monday stepped down as head of the Yukos oil company, is charged with tax evasion, fraud, forgery and embezzlement.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Mr. McCain said Mr. Khodorkovsky had committed what in the Kremlin's eyes is the worst crime of all: supporting political opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian government began investigating Mr. Khodorkovsky in July after he began funding opposition political parties for a parliamentary election next month.

Although Mr. Putin in recent days has sought to assure investors of his commitment to democracy and a market economy, Mr. McCain was not persuaded.

The senator, who chairs the Senate's Finance committee which oversees U.S. and international business and regulatory matters, noted that other successful entrepreneurs have been forced into exile.

He said, in his words, 'a creeping coup against the forces of democracy and market capitalism in Russia is threatening the foundation of the U.S.-Russian relationship.' He raised the specter of a new era of cold peace between Washington and Moscow.

"The dramatic deterioration of democracy in Russia calls into question the fundamental premises of our Russia policy since 1991," he said. "American leaders must adopt U.S. policy to the realities of the Russian government that may be trending toward neo-Imperialism abroad, and authoritarian control at home."

Toward that end, Mr. McCain called for suspending Russia's participation in transatlantic institutions, saying the Russian government is not, as he put it, behaving in a manner that qualifies it to belong in the club of industrialized democracies.

He said Russia should have no place at the next G-8 summit of industrialized nations, to be hosted next year by the United States.

Mr. McCain called on the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to end all guarantees of investment in Russia.

"American policy must reflect the sobering conclusion that a Russian government that does not share our most basic values cannot be a friend or partner and risk defining itself through its own behavior as an adversary," he said.

Mr. McCain also said he would oppose any attempt by Congress to repeal the so-called 'Jackson-Vanik amendment'. The law was written during the Cold War, and it called on the United States to deny normal trade relations to Moscow if it blocked the emigration of Soviet Jews. The law has yet to be repealed, even though Russian Jews are free to emigrate.

President Bush and his predecessor, President Clinton, have waived the measure every year.