The White House was less than enthusiastic about proposed legislation in the US Congress linking normalised trade relations with Russia to the so-called “Magnitsky Act,” a bill aimed at punishing Russian officials suspected of corruption. However, with the US House of Representatives expected to pass the combined bill on Friday… and the US Senate likely to give its stamp of approval after that… most anticipate that President Barack Obama will sign it into law anyway. The question in Washington now is… “What’s Russia going to do about it?”
American officials, lawmakers, and business lobbies have a broad and united consensus that enacting Permanent Normalised Trade Relations (PNTR) with Russia would provide a boost for American exporters. However, the decision to link PNTR to the Magnitsky Act, named for Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing lawyer who died in a Moscow jail three years ago, angered top Russian officials, who accuse the USA of meddling in their country’s internal affairs. On Thursday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs vowed to “react toughly” to this “this unfriendly provocative act”, but it remains unclear exactly what this reaction will be and what impact it might have on bilateral ties.
Cliff Kupchan, head of the Russia and CIS team at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy in New York City, said, “The most unfortunate outcome would be a Russian response that disrupts American-Russian economic relations. If Russia responds with some proportionate blacklist of its own, my view is that the issue will be contained. If Russia responds with an extremely-expansive bill based on multiple criteria, it’d negatively affect relations”.
The bill to go before the House of Representatives on Friday would deny visas to… and freeze the assets of… officials suspected of involvement in Magnitsky’s death and other alleged human rights abuses. The Obama administration maintained that the American government already has mechanisms in place to punish such individuals, and has tried in vain to keep the Magnitsky bill separate from the PNTR issues. Russia joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in August, and, as a fellow WTO member, the USA must normalise trade relations with Russia in order to allow American businesses to capitalise on opportunities in the Russian market.
Carroll Colley, a Washington-based analyst for Eurasia Group, wrote in an essay published Thursday on the Foreign Policy website, “These advantages could be diminished by punitive bureaucratic measures targeting American companies doing business in Russia as a response to the Magnitsky Act. The measures could include unannounced tax inspections of American companies, delayed or denied licensing or registration procedures, and other bureaucratic complications”. James Collins, a former US ambassador to Russia under President Clinton, told RIA-Novosti, “Human rights have long been an issue in American relations with the USSR and Russia, and it’d be unrealistic for anyone to expect this to change anytime soon. The real question is whether the two governments can find reasonably effective ways to manage both the places where we agree and where we disagree. Or, they don’t, and, instead, let this become a disruptive part of the relationship”.
16 November 2012
What do you think would happen if Russia made a list of the American states where labour organisers are routinely brutalised and killed? What do you think that the Republican Party would do if Russia blacklisted Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas for their racially-based efforts to restrict voting by blacks and Mexican-Americans? What do think that the USA would do if Russia barred Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, Rand Paul, Joe Arapaio, and Sean Hannity from Russia on the grounds that they foment and spread extremism (although they DO such and aren’t ashamed of it, no siree)? (Orthodox people… what do you think would happen if Russia banned JP, Potapov, Rod Dreher, and Josiah Trenham for supporting Hard Right causes and for being religious kooks?) Why, there’d be a hellacious stink! You could smell it all the way from the banks of the Potomac to the Arbat!
In short, this is arrogant Anglo posturing. The people who brought you Wounded Knee, Hiroshima, and Guantánamo should know better. THIS is why the world despises the USA. It isn’t envy… its disgust. We should grow up and act like adults… but shall we?