Moscow expressed outrage on Wednesday over a U.S. Senate panel’s approval of a bill that would penalize Russian officials for human rights abuses, and warned Washington that adoption of the sanctions would force Russia to respond in kind.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act,” named after a Russian anti-corruption lawyer whose death in 2009 while in pre-trial detention drew widespread condemnation.
Despite broad support in Congress, the bill’s future remains uncertain, partly because the Obama administration is unenthusiastic about a measure that Russia says would be an unwarranted intrusion into its internal affairs.
“The effect on our relations will be extremely negative,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by state news agency Itar-Tass as saying.
“We are not only deeply sorry but outraged that – despite common sense and all signals Moscow has sent and keeps sending about the counterproductive nature of such steps – work on the ‘Magnitsky law’ continues.”
This issue was supposedly at the top of Putin’s agenda for his meeting with Obama in Cabos, and in his pre-election foreign policy manifesto he listed it as one of his major priorities. This is obviously a very, very big deal with Russia generally, and Putin in particular.
Which speaks volumes. The real outrage here is Magnitsky’s death, and the official response thereto. Said response runs the gamut from neglect to indifference to cover-up, despite burgeoning evidence that high level FSB officials were directly involved in a massive tax fraud that Magnitsky uncovered, and that he was killed because of his insistence on pursuing those who committed this crime. For all of Putin’s strutting about the need to serve the state, the state above all, here is a flagrant example of the alleged “servants” of the state using their power to defraud it, and to kill anyone with the audacity to attempt to stop them.
But rather than come down on the perpetrators, the Russian state is doing nothing. Indeed, its inaction is best explained as a way of protecting those perpetrators. Draw your own conclusions from that.
Focusing on those who are enabling this gross miscarriage of justice, as the Magnitsky Act does, is the right way to go about bringing attention to the most-what is the word?-yes, outrageous example of the official criminality that is embedded deep in the tissues of Russia and the Russian government.
If Putin were truly serious about dramatically improving Russia’s reputation as a place to do business, there would be no better way than to make an example of those officials who used their power to defraud a foreign investor and the Russian government, killed the man who attempt to fight this crime, and also to punish those in power who are to this day protecting the perpetrators-and continuing to torture Magnitsky’s family with Kafkaesque legal proceedings.
But Putin does exactly the opposite. He rages at a US initiative that does what Putin should be doing if he were actually serious about fighting corruption and official crime in Russia. That reaction says very clearly that the Magnitsky Act is exactly the right thing to do.
Putin’s hatred of the Magnitsky Act says all you really need to know about the credibility of his fine words about improving the business and legal environment in Russia. Meaning they are not credible in the least.
The progress of the Magnitsky Act is not the only thing that is stoking Russian paranoia and rage. Yesterday the US successfully destroyed a separating, medium range ballistic missile with a Standard 3 Block 1B missile. This was the second consecutive successful test of the Raytheon system against a realistic target.
Not that this system poses a real threat to Russia’s strategic forces, even from bases in Romania. But regardless, the Russians react with unreasoning hostility to America missile defenses, and every step towards their successful introduction induces paranoid fury in Russia. This test is just such a step.
So how’s the reset going, Bam?