Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Will the Magnitsky Law Take the Place of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment?


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

Ilya Khartamov

Voice of Russia World Service



Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Russia and the USA: A Precarious Balance


The joint statement released by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama after their meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, is a masterpiece of diplomatic correctness. Perfectly neutral and entirely constructive in tone, it sounds as if leaders trying not to say nor do anything that could set off an avalanche made it. In short, they followed the first rule of medicine, “Do no harm”. Putin hasn’t met with a US president for nearly three years, since early 2009, when Obama first came to Moscow and Putin was prime minister. It was a remarkable meeting. In response to Obama’s polite greeting, Putin delivered a very emotional speech lasting 45 minutes, addressing the Kremlin’s complaints against Washington. Putin last spoke with Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush, during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, although not about sports. He demanded that Bush stop Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who had launched a war against South Ossetia that day. Bush didn’t cooperate on this.

The last time Putin as president held full-scale talks with his American counterpart was in Sochi in April 2008, when Putin and Bush adopted a framework declaration on USRussian relations. It was a balanced and positive document, which included the agenda for the future reset policy. The collapse of bilateral relations later that summer was largely due to the fact that practical policy, in particular US policy, veered dramatically away from the partners’ constructive plans. In other words, Moscow decided that Washington had deceived it. Unfortunately, for bilateral relations, two of the strategic priorities that the Bush Administration saw as part of its foreign policy legacy had a direct bearing on Russian interests… drawing Georgia and the Ukraine into the NATO orbit and deploying missile defence systems in Eastern Europe. The August 2008 war in South Ossetia was a logical consequence of the attempts to translate these priorities to reality. Russian-US relations under Putin and Bush culminated in a fatal loss of Russian trust in the USA, which has continued to affect bilateral relations to this day. Putin’s convinced that no gentlemanly agreements or heart-to-heart talks are possible with Americans, only tough and lengthy bargaining for legally-binding agreements.

On the other hand, the reset policy launched in 2009 became possible only when Moscow decided that Obama, unlike his predecessor, would keep his word. Obama promised to review Bush’s missile defence plans for Poland and Czechia, and he has done so. Moscow’s shown that it’s always willing to reciprocate. Then-President Dmitri Medvedev stated that Russia would look into approving sanctions against Iran the very next day after Obama buried Bush’s missile defence initiative in Eastern Europe. However, the US-Russian relationship is now strained and the fruits of the reset policy have spoilt. Putin refused to attend the G8 summit at Camp David after Obama said he would not attend APEC Leaders’ Week in Vladivostok. Hillary Clinton and Sergei Lavrov never tire of exchanging words over Syria. US senators accused Rosoboronexport of aiding the Iranian missile programme.

The US Congress will likely approve legislation to normalise trade relations with Russia by repealing the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment. However, the new legislation is to be accompanied by the passage of the Magnitsky Act allowing sanctions against individuals who were allegedly involved in the death of a lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in 2009 and similar crimes. Given the US criticism of Russia over the new Assembly Law and the police searches of the homes of several opposition leaders, the missile defence dead-end and the now customary diplomatic scandals involving Ambassador Michael McFaul, the general picture of US-Russian relations looks gloomy. However, in fact, it’s better than it seems, as the meeting in Mexico has shown. Tough bargaining with elements of propaganda warfare aimed at forcing the opponent to compromise is normal practice in relations between great powers. As they say, “Nothing personal”. Nevertheless, differences over Syria and Iran are important, as the situation in these countries is approaching a showdown. Although US-Russian relations are far from friendly, they aren’t unusually hostile either.

The important thing is what the US administration does to minimise damage from its political sorties. The State Department and the White House have publicly supported the Republican advocates of the Magnitsky Act, whilst at the same time trying to limit its negative effect. The State Department adopted its own, reportedly short, Magnitsky list last year to prevent Congress from denying entry visas to Russians indiscriminately. The Pentagon, where Russian complaints over Syria and Iran are directed, hasn’t rushed to punish Russia and has officially dissociated itself from Clinton’s accusations. It hasn’t the time for political games because it needs Russia’s sustained cooperation in Afghanistan (equipment, cargo, transit, routes, and other technical matters).

When you consider the complex multilayered relations between these two countries that were just recently mortal enemies, you should expect to see some clouds. What matters is whether they are set for conflict, or whether tensions are the result of objective structural factors. The USA and Russia are currently not set for confrontation, at least not at the highest level. There’s no friendship or sympathy between Putin and Obama, and there’s unlikely to be any in the future. However, it’s more important that they see each other as trustworthy partners. Their latest joint statement indicates that this is possible.

21 June 2012

Fyodor Lukianov



Monday, 11 June 2012

Russia to Respond to Magnitsky Act

This smells like the same ol’, same ol’… plenty of muck in all the byres, I say…


RF Gosduma Deputy Aleksei Pushkov, the heads of the Gosduma Committee on Foreign Affairs, declared that if the US Congress approved the so-called Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, Russia would respond accordingly. Yesterday, one of the committees of the US House of Representatives approved the draft bill. The Act stipulates visa-issuing and financial sanctions against Russian officials who, in the authors’ opinion, were privy to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Experts interviewed by VOR believed that both chambers of the US Congress would approve the Act.

On 7 June, the majority of Congressmen in the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs approved the so-called Magnitsky Act. The initiator of this bill is Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) {he’s one of the most virulent and biased members of the Israel Lobby… so this is no surprise, along with being one of the most pro-Corporate and anti-transparency whores out there (he’s no leftist, by any measure): editor}. He’s made a list of people who’re, in his opinion, involved in the death of Magnitsky and responsible for violations associated with his arrest {note well that it ISN’T the fruit of an objective formal investigation… it’s just a pol’s unhinged and unfounded speculations and suspicions: editor}. To recap, Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow isolation ward in 2009 whilst under investigation on tax charges. Cardin drew up the Magnitsky Act on the basis of a list of officials’ names. The Act would freeze their assets in US banks and deny them US visas.

According to official procedure, after passing the Committee on Foreign Affairs, two other committees must approve the Act. Then, it goes before the entire House of Representatives for a vote. Then, a similar procedure would occur in the US Senate. Political scientist Yuri Korguniuk said, “Considering that elections for the US Congress are to be held in November, it’s obvious that both parties will use the bill to score political points. I can’t see any obstacles to the Congress accepting this Act. In the election campaign, the Democrats want to demonstrate that they’re not encouraging Russia to violate human rights. Some lobbyists could be against the Act stressing that it’d be better not to aggravate relations with Russia. Anyway, I don’t think anyone will listen to them in the heat of the election campaign.”

In March this year, several US Senators with Republican John McCain at the head, spoke in favour of cancelling the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in exchange for the approval of the Magnitsky Act by Congress. Jackson-Vanik, adopted in the 1970s, introduced restrictions on trade with the USSR, and, later, with Russia. The Obama Administration declared that this doesn’t solve anything, and is now negotiating with Cardin and other Senators. Many US businessmen are against the notorious bill, amongst them the President of the influential National Foreign Trade Council, William Reinsch.

Valery Garbuzov, an expert in American studies, said, “However, when one man’s tragedy is used for political purposes, it’s unlikely that the Congress will listen to reason. Obama’s promoting a ‘reset’ of relations, but the Congress has a strong influence on US domestic and foreign policy. Dozens of congressmen have Russophobic views, and they won’t change them in the near future. We should consider this as reality. Actually, one could predict such a response from the USA”.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasised that it could consider the approval of the Magnitsky Act by the US Congress as interference in Russia’s internal affairs. For example, Deputy Pushkov said that Russia could take equivalent measures, such as make lists of Americans who violate the rights of Russian citizens, and refuse them Russian visas {this is a not-so-veiled reference to Viktor Bout and others illegally nicked by the Americans outside of the USA: editor}. At the same time, experts pointed up that it’s too early to forecast the aggravation of Russian-American relations if the Congress approves the Magnitsky Act. Political experts noted that Russia and the USA have common interests on a whole range of topics, such as the preservation of the strategic armaments balance, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and providing global security.

8 June 2012

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

Magnitsky was involved with a Langley-affiliated front, “Hermitage Capital Management”. In short, he was a Langley asset in all but name (much like Potapov, when he was at the BBG). That is, America believes that it has the right to place its agents in any country, and that it has the right to interfere in those countries, as it wills. Most states take umbrage at that, quite properly. Could you imagine the brouhaha if the Russian Ambassador to the USA did a tenth of what the USA attempts to pull in Russia? Why, there’d be pandemonium in Congress. If we wouldn’t like it if it were done to us, we shouldn’t be doing it to others, full stop.

Very conveniently, Hermitage Capitol has an incorporation in Guernsey and the Cayman Islands, which means that it’s immune from US government oversight. It sees one of its main functions as exposing political/corporate corruption in Russia. Hell, they don’t have to go that far… just dig around in the District; you’d find beaucoup instances of corporate/political fraud. They’d come up with more corruption on one block of K Street than they’d ever find in the entire Kremlin. Oh, I forgot… all the pols are on K Street’s payroll, so, the lobbyists have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card signed by Cardin and Darrell Issa… bipartisan from both houses, dontcha know! Judged by the standards of the District, the Russian government are a bunch of pikers compared to the US Congress (Mark Twain had a thing or two to say on that score) when it comes to featherbedding, corruption, earmarking, and general raking in of the boodle.

In short, this is typical DC Sturm und Drang… it’s the usual hypocritical posturing and bloviating. Let’s see… how many Congressmen AREN’T millionaires? There’s not many of those, are there? Cardin had best keep his mouth zipped or his manifest ties to Corporate America might become better known. He certainly DOES know corruption (could one say from the inside?)…



Mark Twain had something to say about the US Congress:

It’s defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it’s created a US Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is… they’re so morally blind… and it’s made light of dishonesty till we have, as a result, a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that.

He also said:

Who’re the oppressors? The few… the King, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who’re the oppressed? The many… the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.

There… Mark Twain’s verdict on the Benjamin Cardins and John McCains of this world (along with their corporate paymasters)… it’s none too flattering, is it? America dares to “judge” the world… and does worse in its own precincts. They need to muck out their own byre before passing judgement on others. I seem to smell it from here… pass me the jug…


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