On November 16, the US House of Representatives voted for the abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. At the same time, they said "yes” to the "Magnitsky Act”, a document that places an asset freeze and visa ban on corrupted Russian officials implicated in the death of Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in the Butyrskaya prison. Congressman Ron Paul who was a presidential candidate from the Republican Party, when talking to VoR, has called the new law a provocative interference into Russia’s internal affairs which would result in the aggravation of relations between the two countries.
At a first glance, everything is rather logical. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, aimed to restrict trade with the Soviet Union until it allowed free emigration, should have been repealed more than twenty years ago along with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It is common knowledge that there are no free emigration-related problems in Russia. What’s more, after Russia’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is already seen as something that rides roughshod over not only interests of Russia, but also those of US businessmen, which is why almost all US companies cooperating with their Russian partners lobbied for the abrogation of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.
No doubt, all the corrupted officials should be punished. The fact that the Russian authorities have finally stopped paying lip-service to the necessity of combating corruption was widely endorsed by ordinary people in Russia.
Why did the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry promise to respond in kind to the adoption of the "Magnitsky List”? And why are the Obama Administration and even some US Congressmen unhappy with the new bill? By the way, it was only adopted by the House of Representatives, but is yet to be approved by the Senate, which is due to vote for what will be a bit corrected version of the document. The Senate wants it to be applied with respect to other countries, while the Congressmen are only concerned over Russia. Consequently, the texts of both versions should be agreed and become identical? and the final text will then be placed on the US President’s table. The President may impose a veto and refuse to sign the document, a scenario that is unlikely to see the light of day.
Moscow’s and the Obama Administration’s frustration about the "Magnitsky Act” can be explained by the fact that the document contributes to confrontation between the two countries at a time when they are trying to reach a consensus on an array of pressing international problems. The US Embassy in Moscow has every right to deny visas to any Russian citizen, including those on the so-called "Magnitsky list”, a right that has been long used without explaining reasons. In the same way, the Russian embassies can deny visas to any foreign citizen. Such is the reality and it is pointless to discuss the matter. So what is the goal of the "Magnitsky Act”?
Evidently, it is playing into the hands of those who will not benefit by the improvement of the Russian-US relations. There are always a whole lot of well-paid lobbyists around the Congressmen, including those who fall under the foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). For various reasons, they would like to prevent closer relations between our two countries. The Magnitsky Act was lobbied by British citizen William Browder, Magnitsky’s former superior who is under investigation for tax evasion in Russia but is hiding abroad. In the past, Browder declined US citizenship, which is a rare case.
Even some US law-makers believe that Congress is making another strategic mistake of the same kind as voting for the expansion of NATO in spite of President Bush Senior’s promise to Gorbachev not to do that.
As Ron Paul says, even more dangerous is the regulation that the proof of an official’s guilt could be provided by non-governmental organisations that are often engaged by those who finance them. Ron Paul says that this reminds him of Soviet ‘people’s tribunals’ for which the proof of the guilt did not matter.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who used to be Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter before he was elected to Congress, said with bitterness that his colleagues completely ignored changes for the better in today’s Russia and were always on the lookout for something negative. Rohrabacher reminded the Congressmen that Russia was not the Soviet Union.
If we look at the recent US Congress ratings, they do not exceed 10% which means that an overwhelming majority of US citizens disapprove of the Congressmen’s activities. It would be logical to ask why the Congressmen who are disapproved of even in their own country make attempts to interfere in international politics which is the government’s domain.
The Congressmen and Senators should remember that they were elected to protect the interests of the US economy and security, not for politicking and promoting the anti-Russian lobby. Obama is facing a very difficult situation. On the one hand, he cannot veto the Magnitsky Act because the US business demands the abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. On the other, his signature under the Magnitsky Act would result in a dramatic aggravation of relations with Russia.
There is very little time left before we know about the US president’s decision but I am afraid that it will be not to the benefit of Russia and Russian-US relations.
by Edward Lozansky
Edward Lozansky is the President of the American University in Moscow and
Professor of World Politics Department at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.