Posts Tagged ‘Nemtsov’
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov perhaps put it best regarding the Magnitsky Act passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday: “This is the most pro-Russian law passed in the United States in the history of our countries.”
Indeed, what better way to support Russians’ interests than to punish a group of people who stole $230 million from the state budget, then framed a whistleblower and put him in jail, where he was tortured, denied medical help and eventually died?
A poll conducted by the Levada Center showed that 39 percent of those polled supported the Magnitsky Act and only 14 percent were against it, while nearly half the respondents were unsure of how to answer. Vladislav Naganov, a member of the opposition’s Coordination Council, wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “This is a victory for Russia. Anyone who claims that Russia is against this law does not have the right to speak for the entire country.”
But the Kremlin is of a decidedly different opinion. In recent months, the country’s leadership has organized a massive international media campaign to stop the passage of the act, and it reacted harshly after it was passed. An official statement from the Foreign Ministry disparaged the Senate vote as “a spectacle in the theater of the absurd.” United Russia members were even more outspoken in their condemnation. Sergei Markov, a member of the Public Chamber and former State Duma deputy, wrote on his blog on the chamber site that the Magnitsky Act “is interference in our legal system and a violation of our sovereignty. The drivers of this bill were energetic, dedicated Russophobes.”
Leonid Slutsky, a Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party and deputy chief of the Russian delegation to the European Parliament, called it “interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”
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On July 12, as I stopped at the gate of the Russian Embassy compound in northwest Washington, the on-duty officer had some unexpected news. “I cannot let you in,” he said through an intercom. “You are forbidden to enter the embassy.” Being a Russian citizen and a credentialed Russian journalist, and having been to my country’s embassy on numerous occasions, I was naturally curious. Yevgeny Khorishko, the embassy’s press secretary, whom I called for an explanation, was brief: The directive to “strike” my name from the list of credentialed Russian journalists came from Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. No reason was given. In an interview later with Slon.ru, a Moscow news Web site, the press secretary explained that the decision reflected the fact that I am “no longer a journalist.”
The explanation would seem passable, except for one detail: The ambassador’s directive came before it was publicly announced that I had been dismissed as Washington bureau chief of RTVi, as Russian Television International is known, effective Sept. 1. How Kislyak could have known this in advance remains a mystery.
Around the same time, two trustworthy sources in Moscow informed me that my name has been placed on a “blacklist,” making me unemployable not only by RTVi but also by other, even privately owned, Russian media outlets. This was quickly verified, as one editor after another indicated that cooperation at this stage is impossible. From his own sources, opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov found out the name of the Kremlin official who has supposedly blacklisted me: Alexei Gromov, President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff. As for the reason for the Berufsverbot, my interlocutors were unequivocal: It was my advocacy for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.
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Outspoken U.S. Senator John McCain has criticized President Vladimir Putin for a recent crackdown on protesters, as well as for oligarchy, corruption and activities in the Baltics and Ukraine.
In an interview with the Voice of America’s Russian service, McCain said Putin had to “understand that there is great resistance to the way he governs,” “the way the elections were held” and how “demonstrators were being cracked down” on last week.
“People in Russia are very unhappy with this oligarchy and corruption that goes from top to bottom,” McCain said in the interview Friday, adding that liberal opposition politician Boris Nemtsov had told him that the protest movement was “not gonna be stopped.”
McCain also said U.S. concern should be expanded to Putin’s activities in Ukraine, the three Baltic states and the “military buildup” in Kaliningrad.
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Several dozen people got together in Moscow on Sunday to mark the 40th birthday of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for British hedge fund Hermitage Capital who died in jail in 2009 after being denied essential medical assistance.
Those present were shown a film about Magnitsky’s life and death, and many of them took the floor, Solidarnost (Solidarity) opposition coalition spokeswoman Olga Shorina told Interfax.
Those who attended the event included Magnitsky’s mother, Natalya Magnitskaya, People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) Co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov, and rights defender Valery Borshchev.
Magnitsky, who had his birthday on April 8, was charged with tax evasion. He died in a detention center in Moscow on November 16, 2009. Later a criminal investigation was launched into his death.
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A number of opposition leaders — including myself, Boris Nemtsov, Alexei Navalny and others — recently made an appeal to the U.S. Congress. We proposed that Congress repeal the outdated 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment and replace it with a tough Magnitsky act. The proposed law would allow the United States to target sanctions against more than 60 specific Russian politicians and officials who are directly responsible for the death of citizens, for illegally seizing the property of others and for falsifying elections.
Not everyone understood our position on Jackson-Vanik correctly — as if we had somehow become soft on Russia’s poor human rights record. They couldn’t be more wrong. Our position differs substantially from that of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, and even more from the position taken by Kremlin hard-liners.
President-elect Vladimir Putin, in dealing with the West, would like to exclude any discussion of democracy, human rights and corruption. This would get in the way of the ruling elite’s main goals: to reap profits from the sale of the country’s natural resources and to transfer those funds into safe havens in the West.
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Last week The New York Times published an interesting story articulating, somewhat by mistake, a profound irony at the heart of the Russia’s contentious political debate: both the opposition as well as their tormentor, Vladimir Putin, believe it’s high time to normalize trade relations with the United States. Where they differ, is on what should remain in place as a check on human rights abuses.
Currently Russia is denied Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) due to the antiquated Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold-War-era trade-restricting apparatus put in place to guarantee emigration rights for Soviet Jews. Russia’s opposition thinks repealing Jackson-Vanik-a top priority for President Obama-will deny Putin “a very useful tool” for his “anti-American propaganda machine…helping him to depict the United States as hostile to Russia using outdated Cold War tools to undermine Russia’s international competitiveness,” while Putin and his allies want the lower tariffs and other perks PNTR provides.
But most media coverage failed to capture the most significant position included in the opposition’s statement: they indicate their support for “smarter” sanctions such as the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act to replace JV. In order for one antiquated law to be taken off the books, they are asking for a more modern one to take its place: legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison two years ago after being denied medical care. More importantly, the new legislation specifically targets individual bureaucrats who have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption in a high effective manner, leaving all other normal Russian citizens the full
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History is sometimes cyclical.
In 1974, Congress was debating the Jackson-Vanik amendment that would restrict most-favored-nation treatment to the Soviet Union and tie trade relaxation to Soviet willingness to allow Jewish emigration to Israel. The leader of this fight was the late Senator Henry Martin Jackson of Washington, a paragon of friendship to Israel and the Jewish people.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger led the fight against the amendment, claiming that the Soviet Union would view it as intervention into its internal affairs and that as a proud superpower, it would only stiffen its position on Jewish emigration; therefore, quiet diplomacy was the preferred tactic.
In the congressional hearings, American businesses and particularly the Business Roundtable, lobbied strongly against the amendment. It was 1973 and the US economy was reeling due to the aftereffects of a costly Vietnam War and the hike in oil prices following the Yom Kippur war.
It was important for American business to trade with the Soviet Union at a time that the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries were massively buying Western goods and technology in the hope of jumpstarting their economies. The Jackson-Vanik amendment would effectively close the door to American business and make sure that the Europeans would have the Russian market to themselves.
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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.
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