Russia’s trade relations with the U.S. are finally being normalized—but with a sting, said The Moscow Times in an editorial. The U.S. House of Representatives has acted to repeal the notorious Jackson-Vanik law of 1974, which denied trade perks to the Soviet Union for preventing Soviet Jews from emigrating. But in acting to lift those restrictions, Congress has insulted our country by passing a new law that stipulates “visa bans and a freeze of assets for Russians determined to have been involved in the arrest, abuse, or death” of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was tortured to death in a Moscow prison in 2009. Magnitsky had been trying to discover what happened to the assets of the investment group Hermitage Capital, which frequently exposed corruption in the Russian government until the Kremlin kicked its chief executive, William Browder, out of the country in 2005. Magnitsky was jailed and killed after revealing an elaborate scheme that had defrauded the Russian treasury of $230 million. The House called the new bill the Magnitsky Act, and the Russian government is not amused. “Such a step will unavoidably have a negative effect on the whole range of Russian-U.S. relations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. “We will have to react, and react toughly.”
So much for President Obama’s “supposed reboot” of U.S.-Russian relations, said Alexander Gasyuk in Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He has said that after the Senate passes its version, later this year, he will sign the bill into law. We can thank Kremlin opponents for mounting “a powerful lobbying campaign” to get the act passed. Several U.S. NGOs, some of which have been barred from Russia for their meddling, practically set up camp in congressional offices. And Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was actually present in the House for the vote; a U.S. activist group flew him in for the occasion.
This could get even more serious, said Yuri Paniev and Alex Gorbachev in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Many European politicians and experts believe that the U.S. passage of the Magnitsky Act “will spur discussion of similar sanctions by the EU.” Browder has now gotten that discussion going in the U.K., where his firm is headquartered. London has already staged a play about Magnitsky’s final hours, showing him writhing in agony, denied medical treatment for his acute pancreatitis, and then being beaten. And last month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on member states to draw up their own blacklists of Russian officials who violated Magnitsky’s rights.
And why shouldn’t they? asked Vedomosti. The Magnitsky Act is not directed against the Russian state, but rather targets a “narrow circle of security guards, judges, and officials” who committed an undeniable crime. The Kremlin could have prevented the act from ever being passed had it simply investigated Magnitsky’s death “and punished those responsible—but it did not.” Now it must accept the consequences.