The House of Representatives Rules Committee of the US Congress decided that voting on the bill that stipulates simultaneous abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment aimed against Russia and the adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act shall take place on 13 November. Chances are, the replacement of one discriminatory document with another would become an obstacle in the dialogue between Moscow and Washington.
Two bills that cause heated discussions in Russian and American political and business circles are combined in one document. If the Committee approves it on 13 November, it’ll go to a vote of the whole House. The main problem with the US lawmakers’ initiative is that they’ve connected the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the Magnitsky Act; they have absolutely nothing in common, either technically or in their contents. The so-called Magnitsky Act stipulates freezing assets and banning entry to the USA for Russian citizens allegedly associated with the death of the Hermitage Capital Management employee Sergei Magnitsky in an investigative isolation ward in Moscow in 2009. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which is a vestige of the Cold War, was adopted in 1974. It stipulated restrictions upon trade with the USSR, because the US Congress believed that it had undue restrictions upon Jewish emigration.
Expert Vilen Ivanov told us, “Replacing one law with another is unlikely to add optimism in Moscow. The Magnitsky Law is even worse than the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is. The aim of the latter was trade discrimination against Russia, whilst the new law lets off the leash all those in the USA who dislike Russia; it gives them a free hand in announcing Russian citizens personae non grata and introducing individual sanctions against them. This law couldn’t promote better relations between our two countries and it makes our partnership more problematic in general”.
It’s worth remembering that the Magnitsky Law contains a paragraph that gives the US Secretary of State the right to introduce alterations to the list of sanctions, based on the country’s interests. This is an obviously superfluous measure, as 18 months ago the US Department of State already made a blacklist of persons allegedly associated with Magnitsky’s death to prevent them from getting US visas. In addition, the US Secretary of the Treasury would have the right to freeze Russian citizens’ bank accounts. In essence, this boils down to the fact that the American authorities can smear Russian citizens for one reason or another. As is known, this is a very effective method of political pressure.
Sergei Mikheyev, the Director of the Centre of Political Situations, said, “The latest developments demonstrate Washington’s current attitude to Moscow. Unfortunately, the general mood in the USA is in the vein of the Cold War. Americans believe that they should always have some ‘lever’ to be able to put pressure on Russia. I don’t think that we could radically change this situation at present, so, we should make the best of what we’ve got”.
Repeatedly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Magnitsky’s death is a Russian internal problem, which is being dealt with at the highest level. As for the attempt to replace the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with a new anti-Russian law, this doesn’t suit Moscow at all. Incidentally, not only Russian politicians but also American businessmen are amongst the opponents of the Magnitsky Law. Bill Reinsh, President of the influential National Foreign Trade Council, recently announced that the adoption of that law would seriously damage trade and political relations with Russia, including cooperation on the Iranian and Syrian problems. He thought that Russia would prefer other partners within the WTO and that it could take retaliatory measures against the USA. Interestingly, some people in the Obama Administration hold the same view. However, Republicans in the US Congress wouldn’t listen to these arguments; they stubbornly insist on their position.
13 November 2012
Voice of Russia World Service