Kasparov & Nemtsov: Sanction Putin’s Criminals
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate will hold a hearing to discuss the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that impedes American trade relations with Russia. The Obama administration has portrayed it as little more than overdue Cold War housekeeping while touting the imagined economic benefits for American farmers that could result from freer trade with Russia.
But the reality on the ground in today’s authoritarian Russia is far more complex. We support the repeal, both as leaders of the pro-democracy opposition in Russia and as Russian citizens who want our nation to join the modern global economy. It is essential, however, to see the bigger picture of which Jackson-Vanik is a part.
The “election” of Vladimir Putin to the presidency is over, but the fight for democracy in Russia is just beginning. At both major opposition meetings following the fraudulent March 4 election, we publicly resolved that Mr. Putin is not the legitimate leader of Russia. The protests will not cease and we will continue to organize and prepare for a near future without Mr. Putin in the presidency. Getting rid of him and his cronies is a job for Russians, and we do not ask for foreign intervention. We do, however, ask that the U.S. and other leading nations of the Free World cease to provide democratic credentials to Mr. Putin. This is why symbols matter, and why Jackson-Vanik still matters.
The new U.S. ambassador to Russia is Mike McFaul, who has a long and accomplished career as a champion for democratic rights. But he’s now become the principal architect of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations after the Bush presidency, and he has recently been pushing the case for repealing Jackson-Vanik. Earlier this week he told an audience at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., that there is “no relationship” between the repeal of Jackson-Vanik and the promotion of Russian democracy. “If you don’t believe me,” he said, “ask [Alexei] Navalny,” the Russian blogger who has become one of the charismatic new leaders of Russia’s democracy movement.
So we asked Mr. Navalny, who, along with several other members of the opposition leadership, signed a letter cited by Mr. McFaul calling for the removal of Russia from Jackson-Vanik. “Of course no one in Russia is foolish enough to defend Jackson-Vanik,” he told us. “But we also understand that it should be replaced with something else. And we said as much in our letter when we recommended the passing of the Magnitsky Act, as has been done in Europe.”
Mr. Navalny is referring to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate last May with wide bipartisan support. Named for the Russian attorney who died in police custody in 2009 while investigating official corruption, the Magnitsky Act would bring visa and asset sanctions against Russian government functionaries culpable of criminal and human rights abuses.
“Such legislation is not anti-Russian,” Mr. Navalny explained. “In fact I believe it is pro-Russian. It helps defend us from the criminals who kill our citizens, steal our money, and hide it abroad.”
It will not be easy to match the legacy of Jackson-Vanik. On March 15, 1973, Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson introduced the amendment on the Senate floor. It focused on a specific human-rights issue—the right of Soviet Jews to leave the U.S.S.R. The amendment’s greatest opponent was then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who worried it would upset his vision of détente with the Soviets and instead advocated “quiet diplomacy.” In contrast, the Russian dissident and Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov praised the amendment as a “policy of principle” that would further détente, not hinder it. The well over one million émigrés who escaped the repressive Soviet state would surely side with Sakharov.
Jackson-Vanik is a relic and its time has passed. But allowing it to disappear with nothing in its place, and right on the heels of the fantastically corrupt “election” of March 4, turns it into little more than a gift to Mr. Putin. Our economy, like our people, will never truly flourish until Mr. Putin and his mafia structure are expunged.
Moreover, if economic engagement is the best way to promote an open society, why does the Obama administration not forge a free-trade pact with Iran instead of levying sanctions? Russia will be joining the World Trade Organization regardless of what the U.S. does. But WTO membership will not undo Mr. Putin’s monopolization of political and economic power. If Mr. Putin and his oligarchs believed for an instant that the WTO might weaken their grip, they simply would stay out.
The Obama administration is not only attempting to overturn a law, but also its spirit. As Mr. Kissinger did 39 years ago, Amb. McFaul is trying to make the case that human rights should not get in the way of realpolitik and the business of doing business. He reminds us that the State Department already has its own secret list of banned Russian officials, and so nothing more need be done. But the entire object of such laws is to publicly shame and punish the rank and file of Mr. Putin’s mob so they know the big boss can no longer protect them.
The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is an example of such legislation. Replacing Jackson-Vanik with it would promote better relations between the people of the U.S. and Russia while refusing to provide aid and comfort to a tyrant and his regime at this critical moment in history. This, too, would be a policy of principle.
Messrs. Kasparov and Nemtsov are co-chairs of the Russian Solidarity movement. A version of this article appeared Mar. 15, 2012, on page A15 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Right Way to Sanction Russia.