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Russian state officials give harsh response to Magnitsky List, but experts not inclined to dramatise situation

April 15, 2013, 17:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Although the United States and Russia exchanged the lists of the citizens of the countries banned for arrival in each of these two countries – the U.S. Magnitsky list and the Russian anti-Magnitsky list will inevitably have a negative impact on bilateral relations, but the situation is not so bad, as it was expected before, Russian experts believe. The analysts noted that the lists turned out to be shorter than was expected before. The U.S. did not include the high-ranking officials in the Magnitsky List, and Moscow, which gave a symmetrical response, did not put the foster parents of the Russian orphans, who died in the U.S., on its list.

Meanwhile, however, the Russian state officials gave a quite tough response, and both lists may be expanded in the future, thus, taking the bilateral relations as hostages of ‘the war of lists’.

On Friday, April 12, the U.S. has made public the Magnitsky List of 18 Russian officials. The law, which was named in memory of auditor of the Hermitage Capital investment fund Sergei Magnitsky, who died at the Moscow detention centre, was approved by the U.S. Senate at the end of 2012. The law imposes visa and economic sanctions against the Russian citizens, who, according to the U.S. lawmakers, are involved in the violations of the human rights.

In retaliation, the Russian Foreign Ministry has made public a list of 18 U.S. citizens, who are banned to arrive in Russia. The list is divided in two parts. The first part includes the names of those U.S. officials, who, according to the Russian state authorities, are involved in the legalization and the use of tortures in the special prison in Guantanamo. The second part contains the names of those U.S. officials, who, according to the Russian position, are involved in the violations of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens abroad. The judges, detectives and agents of the security services, who were involved in the criminal persecution and conviction of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, are on the list.

The U.S. put it clearly that the work on the Magnitsky List will be continued and new names may be added to it as long as the information about the violations of human rights in Russia is being checked. The media publish different reports over the classified part of the list.

The response of the Russian state officials was harsh as was expected.

“We state with regret that following the provisions of an absurd Magnitsky Law the U.S. has made public the names of the Russian citizens, against which visa and financial sanctions were imposed. Our assessment of principle of this unfriendly step is well-known - under the pressure of the Russophobe-minded members of the U.S. Congress, a powerful blow was dealt to bilateral relations and mutual trust,” spokesman for the Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich said.

Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov also named the publishing of the Magnitsky List as a blow to bilateral relations and a direct interference in Russian domestic affairs.

“This is a blow to Russian-US relations. Whereas, the whole world situation, a large number of regional conflicts, potentially new conflicts dictate the need for Russian-US rapprochement, because this is the two countries, which bear responsibility for global stability and security, the actions are taken that not just overshadow, but also harm bilateral relations,” Peskov said live on the television channel Rossiya 1.

These actions, “from our point of view, are a direct interference in the domestic affairs of Russia,” Peskov added, noting that “the so-called Magnitsky case should not be discussed anywhere outside Russia at all.”

The U.S. White House acknowledged that the publication of the Magnitsky List can deteriorate the relations with Russia, moreover, in the near future. On Monday, U.S. National Security Advisor of the Obama Administration Thomas Donilon began a two-day visit in Moscow. High on the agenda of the visit are the debates over cooperation in the missile defense sphere, further reduction of the nuclear arsenals and the situation in Syria.

Russian experts are unanimous that the U.S. list is not politicized, but is sooner formal, and though certainly will complicate the relations between the two countries, will not undermine bilateral cooperation.

“The publication of the list will not shut the door on cooperation,” Russian senator Alexander Torshin told the Izvestia daily. “So, this episode should not be taken as the beginning of a new Cold War,” he noted.

Director of the International Institute of Political Expertise Yevgeny Minchenko is convinced that a negative response to the publication of the Magnitsky List is caused by the fact that the list takes the U.S. jurisdiction higher than the Russian jurisdiction, and this is unacceptable for the politicians in Russia. However, such a small number of names in the list proves that the U.S. Presidential Administration was seeking to preserve the relations with the Kremlin, the expert believes.

“The U.S. in this list was guided by a purely legal principle and included people in it, who as they claimed, are ‘directly involved’ in the violation of a concrete law and committed a concrete crime. So, it is not politicized, as some people expected,” the Argumenty i Fakty weekly quoted political expert Nikolai Zlobin as saying.

The worsening of the relations between the two countries is possible only at the level of rhetoric, but in reality neither Russia nor the U.S. intend to enter in confrontation, political expert Dmitry Travin said live on the radio station Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“I believe that this story will not result in the problems for the top state officials, because I do not believe that the Americans really wanted to take a tough step towards the Russian leadership. But, certainly, the U.S. should give a response to the public opinion. The countries are gradually working out some compromise between the desire to show that we are cool and we will show what’s what to these Russians, and the reluctance to engage in a serious conflict. This way the most unimportant officials, which we are feeling no pity for being put on the list, get there” he noted.

“The card, which is related with the Magnitsky List, is mostly played by both sides,” member of the Public Chamber and historian Nikolai Svanidze believes. “In the future this list will be expanded. But if it is not enlarged essentially, it will not embrace really high-ranking statesmen. If this does not happen, this issue will not affect the relations any longer. As for the Russian response, it is a formal, diplomatic response. Certainly, these people were not going to arrive in our country. From the actual point of view, this is just ridiculous,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the Russians almost do not know anything about the Magnitsky List, but find it hostile. This is the results of the sociological survey, which the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) conducted.

The sociological survey showed that only four percent of respondents are aware that those officials related with the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky are put on the list, 42% of pollsters are completely unaware about this document and 44% heard about the Magnitsky List.

In general, the Russians take the approval of the Magnitsky List by the U.S. Congress in the hostile way: 29% of respondents believe that the U.S. exerts pressure on Russia, 12% find it as an attempt to stir up a conflict between the countries, and seven percent of respondents are inclined to think that the U.S. wants to impose finally the restrictions for the arrival of the Russian citizens. Only 16% of respondents are confident that the U.S. intends to make Russia observe the human rights by the enactment of the Magnitsky Law.