The United States can expect a “tough” response if the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is adopted in the U.S. Congress, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said today. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said there would be “consequences” to what he called an “anti-Russian initiative.”
The House of Representatives is expected to pass the law which grants preferential trade status to Russia and Moldova, but also includes Title IV, the Magnitsky provision.
Magnitsky (left) was a Moscow-based lawyer who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical treatment after exposing extensive fraud by Russian officials against Hermitage Capital. The bill provides for visa restrictions and a financial freeze on officials allegedly complicit in Magnitsky’s death.
“Tomorrow marks the three-year anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s death, and it is outrageous, it is outrageous … that this kind of action in this 21st century still exists in a country that claims to be a democracy,” said David Dreier (R-CA). “It is horrendous and it is unacceptable.”
The legislation is significant both in its own right and as a historic precedent, said William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital, and a strong proponent of the measure.
“Twelve European countries and Canada are all looking to the U.S. before passing their own versions of the Magnitsky Act,” he said. “I predict a major domino effect on this being implemented in other countries after this becomes law in the U.S.”
Criminal investigators are reportedly examining another case involving Olga Stepanova, whose tax office approved a fraudulent $230 million refund exposed by Magnitsky.
“It is a critical event in the history of Putinism,” says analyst Andrei Piontkovsky.
This week, investigators have fingered the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry and the regional government for Moscow’s suburbs. Putin appears to be in damage-dampening mode. The “clans” within the Kremlin are sorting out their differences, Piontkovsky and many others here believe, unmindful of the president’s once-firm control.
Piontkovsky, like others, believes that the Defense Ministry investigation was forced on Putin by Serdyukov’s rivals within the government. The ensuing probes into other ministries may be counter-strikes or an effort to look like the Kremlin is finally getting out front in battling graft, or both. … Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, said Wednesday that about $30 billion in government money is stolen every year. Others have put the total level of bribery at 10 times that amount.
It shows that “Putin is not the all-powerful leader of his entourage,” said Piontkovsky, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that it was “a positive thing” that Russian civil society in “has become more active.”
But leading members of the ruling United Russia party called for the suspension of several civil society groups for refusing to comply with the requirement of a new NGO law that they register as “foreign agents.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will raise the Kremlin’s crackdown on civil society with President Vladimir Putin on her visit to Russia tomorrow.
A senior German official told Reuters that steps to limit civil society would be an “important theme”.
“If there are new limits (on civil society), then naturally this is a concern for the chancellor and she will speak about it,” the aide said. The German Bundestag has also passed a motion criticizing the crackdown.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has already hit out at Andreas Schockenhoff, Merkel’s envoy for civil society ties between Russia and Germany and a sponsor of parliament’s motion, refusing to recognize him as a German government representative.
“There is a growing group of Russian citizens who will not accept a ban on their freedom of expression,” Schockenhoff told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.
Schockenhoff, who is attending the Moscow talks as a co-moderator of the “Petersburg dialogue” involving up to 200 Russian and German civilians and government officials, is unrepentant.
There had been “a series of legislative measures?.?.?.?which all have in common that they intimidate any critical contribution from civil society”, he told the Financial Times. “They do not encourage people to engage.”
The Russian judiciary is increasingly coming to resemble its Soviet predecessor, say rights advocate.
“Under the Soviet legal system, the court was an arm of the government, a system designed to protect the state from an individual, rather than to protect an individual from the state,” write Freedom House president David Kramer and Susan Corke, director of the group’s Eurasian Programs:
Treason was defined in the Soviet Criminal Code as being part of a public group that acted “under the influence” of the bourgeoisie. This all sounds eerily similar to trends resurfacing in today’s Russia, except that Putin has been less candid about what his framework could enable, beyond describing a need for “stability.” More likely he wants to instill fear, albeit without the terror of the past. He wants a more civilized, acceptable reinterpretation of the Soviet period, although that is hardly consolation for Russia’s beleaguered civil society and opposition. Putin’s recent decision to appoint Moscow regional governor Sergei Shoigu as the new minister of defense has prompted speculation that he is being groomed as Putin’s successor.
Despite the stirring self-persuasive rhetoric of Kremlin loyalists, Putin’s system is far from stable. Mass protest rallies, which followed last year’s fraudulent parliamentary vote, shattered the myth of the regime’s invincibility. Even according to the official results of the March presidential election, the majority of Muscovites voted against the “national leader.” A recent poll by the Levada Center showed that just 34 percent of Russians want Putin to remain in power for another term. Most analysts agree that the events of 2011–2012 marked the beginning of the end for the Putin regime. Senior pro-Kremlin figures recently urged Putin to prepare an exit strategy while there is still time to forestall a revolution. RTWT
The move is reminiscent of Borsi Yeltsin’s move to appoint Putin as his heir-in-waiting, says Piontkovsky:
Perhaps the brilliant political technology [spin doctor manipulation] combination of 1999 could once more be applied to our elite? Then the Yeltsin clan put in power a Yeltsin protégé, who was completely dependent on him, selling him to the people as anti-Yeltsin.
So why couldn’t the very same Yeltsin-Putin clan put their man in power, selling him once more to those same people as anti-Putin?
The future Russian president S.K. Shoigu would have only two obligations to Putin:
- a comfortable get-away plane on the day he retires;
- a legal ban for all time on the question of extradition.