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Moscow against linking cancellation of Jackson-Vanik amendment with Magnitsky list

June 14, 2012, 15:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 14 (Itar-Tass) —— Moscow is emphatically against the idea of US Senators to link the cancellation of the discriminatory Jackson-Vanik amendment, restricting trading relations with Russia, with the introduction of visa sanctions against Russian officials, who are responsible, in their opinion, for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a detention prison. The White House has for the first time supported this initiative, although before it warned more than once that sanctions may considerably worsen relations with Moscow. The replacement of the Jackson-Vanik amendment with the Magnitsky list will have a negative effect on relations between Russia and the United States, the Kremlin said.

The US Congress introduced the Jackson-Vanik amendment in 1974 to impose restrictions on trade with the USSR. The lack of freedom to emigrate from the Soviet Union was the reason. The amendment is still in effect in relations with Russia. Since 1989 the United States has annually introduced a moratorium on the operation of the amendment, but officially Congress has not canceled it.

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who worked for the British investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, was accused of corporate tax evasion, remanded in police custody and died in a detention prison in Moscow in November 2009. His death caused a public outcry inside and outside Russia. Sanctions, if they are ever to be imposed, will apply to 60 Russian officials, whom the American legislators suspect of involvement in the opening of a criminal case against Sergei Magnitsky and his death while under arrest. The officials in question and their relatives will be prohibited from entering the territory of the United States, and their accounts in the American banks will be frozen.

The bills on the cancellation of the discriminatory amendment and the introduction of sanctions against officials on the “Magnitsky list” will be put to the vote in the Senate this year. They may even be pooled into one document. Last year the Obama Administration made a negative comment on the Magnitsky bill, authored by Senator Benjamin Cardin. In part, the White House pointed to the risk of a likely negative reaction from the Russian authorities. Now US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has declared that the US Administration will be prepared to support the idea of pooling the bills. According to experts, this means that as the presidential election draws near, the Obama Administration will be unprepared to have a major conflict with the Senate even for the sake of relations with Russia.

As the daily Kommersant has said, the White House has not abandoned attempts to slightly ease the Magnitsky bill. It may be complemented with amendments making the procedure of adding new names to the black list more complicated, and also empowering the Administration to cancel the operation of the law in relation to certain individuals on the list.

The Kremlin rejects visa restrictions in any form. Moscow has said more than once that US attempts to link cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment with the human rights situation in Russia will not be left unanswered.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov as saying Russia will be prepared to retaliate, if this new anti-Russian law is given a go-ahead.

“Cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment would benefit the United States in the first place, as many representatives of US businesses themselves have acknowledged. Secondly, the question has nothing to do with arbitrary visa restrictions in relation to our citizens. So there should be no bargaining, and any likely decision by the US Senate will certainly not improve relations between our countries,” Kommersant quotes a source in the Kremlin as saying.

“Our fundamental position remains unchanged. If such a document is adopted, this would be counterproductive. At least it would smack of interference in the internal affairs. Such a march of events would be negative,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights commissioner, Konstantin Dolgov, has said. He also warned that in that case Moscow’s response would be proportionate.

Russia already has its own retaliatory list of US officials, who are unwelcome in Russian territory. It is not symmetrical to the American one. In November last year there were just eleven names on the Russian list – all of persons involved in the operation of Guantanamo jails. Russia has reserved the right to unilaterally make amendments to that list.

The attempt to impose the introduction of the so-called Magnitsky list with the cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment looks “cheap and a tragicomedy,” the first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, Andrei Klimov told the media on Wednesday. “It’s some sort of child’s play American style.”

Klimov said the Jackson-Vanik amendment is a rudiment that has outlived itself and US businesses will merely stand to gain, if it is canceled. “The reason is as soon as Russia joins the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik amendment will backfire on the American companies, because they will be operating in far worse conditions than the other participants in the agreement. There is nothing pro-Russian in the cancellation of that amendment,” the legislator explained.

As the director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Boris Kagarlitsky, has told the daily Izvestia, the cancellation of the Jackson Vanik amendment will not entail major changes in the economic relations between the two countries. “The amendment has been suspended for quite a while. De facto it was not canceled, but other by-laws allowed for sidestepping it,” the analyst said. “Now there is the formal reason for terminating it. Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, and all restrictions on trade with it, according to the organization’s rules, must be lifted.”

Kagarlitsky believes that in choosing between the preservation of the old amendment and the adoption of the Magnitsky list the Russian authorities would prefer the former. The approval of the Magnitsky list would mean that the United States has formally declared several dozen Russian civil servants as accomplices to the crime. Such a recognition is capable of spoiling relations between the two countries.