MOSCOW, June 22 (Itar-Tass) — The Kremlin is calm about the possible endorsement of the Magnitsky Act, but warns Washington about possible counter measures.
Judging by the June 18 meeting of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama in Mexico, “the act will be passed this way or another,” Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday. “It seems the U.S. Administration has put up with that and seeks cosmetic changes.”
“Bearing in mind this reality, our president said calmly that the Russian reaction would be imminent. We are practically forced to react,” the aide said.
“We will react, and our reaction will be calm,” Ushakov said, without going into details. He said everything would depend on the final edition of the bill: there had been three editions so far. “We do not want to react at all, but we will have to,” he said.
In the words of Ushakov, Putin does not take this bill as a key question of Russia-U.S. relations. He thinks though that such problems may be solved in a calmer atmosphere. “It is possible to block travelling of particular persons in a quiet way, not in such a demonstrative form,” Ushakov said, adding that Putin conveyed that opinion to Obama. “That is a demonstrative anti-Russian step of the U.S.,” he said.
He also noted that the Kremlin had no illusions about the Magnitsky Act. “We knew from the start on which bill the Congress was working and which efforts the Administration was taking. We knew what it could do and what it could not, so it did not spring a surprise on us. The situation mirrors the heat of political structure ahead of the U.S. presidential election of November. Alas, it also mirrors the remaining anti-Russian feelings on the Capitol Hill,” he said.
Another confirmation of the use of the anti-Russian card in the election campaign, was the statement of Obama’s election rival, Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney, who said that Russia was a geopolitical rival of the U.S., he said. “We do not react to such statements; we take them absolutely calmly, because we understand that the election campaign is on and passions fly high,” he said. “Let us see whether such statements may help Romney win the election and whether he uses the same words after the election or understands that a balanced and pragmatic attitude to Russia meets U.S. national interests.”
Putin also commented on the possible adoption of the Magnitsky Act. “So be it,” he responded to an Itar-Tass question. “If any restrictions are imposed on U.S. trips of Russian citizens, then there will be appropriate restrictions on Russian trips of a certain number of Americans. I do not know who may need that, but if they do it, let it be. This is not our choice,” he said.
The bill known as the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act provides for visa and economic sanctions against a number of Russian citizens suspected by Washington with implication in the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky during his imprisonment.
The vote was due originally in April, but active lobbying of the U.S. President Barack Obama Administration delayed it. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry explained the delay with the need to overcome disagreements over certain provisions of the bill.
Senator Benjamin Cardin (a Democrat) is the main sponsor of the bill, which will bar the aforesaid Russians and their families from visiting the United States and freeze their accounts in U.S. banks. The Cardin draft compelled the U.S. state secretary and treasury secretary to publish the Magnitsky list within 90 days since the adoption of the bill, together with the list of persons responsible for torture and other serious abuse of human rights.
Many Congress members view the Magnitsky Act as a mandatory condition of the cancellation of the discriminative Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the granting of a normal trade partner status to Russia. The Obama administration had been opposing that link until recently.