Rus­sian lawyer’s ‘Trump Mis­sion' was to dump Mag­nit­sky Act

The Baltic Times - - COMMENTARY - Vladimir Kara-murza

Largely over­looked in the heated dis­cus­sion of last sum­mer’s meet­ing be­tween Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya and Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign ex­ec­u­tives, and whether or not it con­sti­tuted “col­lu­sion,” is the rea­son the Krem­lin­con­nected lawyer and lob­by­ist sought the meet­ing in the first place. By her own ad­mis­sion, it was to try “to get the United States to re­verse the Mag­nit­sky Act” in the event of a Trump vic­tory. What­ever else this story re­veals, it is an im­por­tant re­minder of the Krem­lin’s pri­or­i­ties—and of its con­tin­ued at­tempts to un­der­mine the 2012 US law that au­tho­rized tar­geted visa bans and as­set freezes for Rus­sian of­fi­cials com­plicit in “gross vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights.”

The Sergei Mag­nit­sky Rule of Law Ac­count­abil­ity Act, en­acted with sweep­ing bi­par­ti­san ma­jori­ties in both houses of Congress over op­po­si­tion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, set a ground­break­ing prece­dent: for the first time, re­spon­si­bil­ity for hu­man rights abuse was as­signed where it was due—not to an en­tire coun­try, but to spe­cific em­pow­ered in­di­vid­u­als “re­spon­si­ble for ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, tor­ture, or other gross vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized hu­man rights.” “All the in­famies of the [Putin] regime—lies, cru­elty, mis­car­riage of jus­tice, thiev­ery, and big­otry re­sult from impunity,” wrote Rus­sian op­po­si­tion leader Boris Nemtsov, who was in­stru­men­tal in con­vinc­ing the US Congress to pass the law. “The Mag­nit­sky list is the most pro-rus­sian de­ci­sion taken in the West in many years. It is harm­ful to Putin’s thieves, murderers and scoundrels, and it is ben­e­fi­cial to the coun­try.”

The rea­son this law is so harm­ful to Putin’s sys­tem is the well-known pref­er­ence of Krem­lin of­fi­cials and Krem­lin-linked oli­garchs for a Western life­style. Like their Soviet pre­de­ces­sors, they pre­side over a sys­tem that sup­presses the most ba­sic rights and free­doms of their cit­i­zens but un­like mem­bers of the Polit­buro, they opt for the West when it comes to stor­ing their own (ill-got­ten) money, buy­ing their houses, and ed­u­cat­ing their chil­dren. Los­ing that priv­i­lege was un­think­able, and the Krem­lin was ready to use any meth­ods rom Putin’s or­der task­ing his for­eign min­istry with stop­ping the law, to us­ing black­mail and con­di­tion­ing Western adop­tions of Rus­sian or­phans on the non-pas­sage of the Mag­nit­sky sanc­tions. As Moscow colum­nist Valery Panyushkin com­mented at the time, “I know of only two or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world that harm their own chil­dren in or­der to scare their en­e­mies­they are Ha­mas and [Putin’s] United Rus­sia Party.” Putin con­tin­ues to pub­licly con­di­tion Us-rus­sia co­op­er­a­tion in strate­gic ar­e­as­such as the re­vival of a bi­lat­eral agree­ment on the dis­posal of plu­to­ni­u­mon the re­peal of the Mag­nit­sky Act. As Ve­sel­nit­skaya’s mis­sion shows, unofficial prox­ies also con­tinue to be used for the same goal. As of to­day, 44 peo­ple have been sanc­tioned by the US gov­ern­ment as hu­man rights vi­o­la­tors un­der the pro­vi­sions of the Mag­nit­sky Act. They in­clude Putin’s top lawen­force­ment of­fi­cial, Gen­eral Alexan­der Bas­trykin, re­spon­si­ble for a slate of po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tions and for per­son­ally threat­en­ing the life of an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist. At his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in Jan­uary, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son pledged that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue to ap­ply the Mag­nit­sky Act. So far, it has not added any new names to the list of in­di­vid­u­als sanc­tioned un­der this law. There would be no bet­ter way for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to back up its as­ser­tion that the meet­ing with Ve­sel­nit­skaya was “such a noth­ing”, than to demon­strate its com­mit­ment to the con­tin­ued im­ple­men­ta­tion of one of the no­blest pieces of leg­is­la­tion passed on US soil.

The com­men­tary first ap­peared on www.worldaf­fairsjour­nal.org

Vladimir Kara-murza

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