Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) speaks out on Magnitsky Act.
Momentum is building in the US press for passage of the Magnitsky Act. After the liberal media initially won the mindshare advocating only repeal of JVA with no further action (i.e. with this ambiguous and wimpy New York Times piece), yesterday, the Wall Street Journal rightly called Magnitsky "a bi-partisan challenge to Obama's blind spot on Russia":
For two years, the White House has scuttled the Magnitsky bill. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, who dreams of the top job at Foggy Bottom in a second Obama term, refuses to hold hearings. Mike McFaul, the new ambassador to Russia, last week called it "redundant" because the State Department put some Russian officials on a visa black list last year. He didn't mention that it only did so in response to Senate pressure and in an effort to pre-empt Senate action. Nor did he say that, unlike the Magnitsky bill, State didn't publicly name names or ban them from using the U.S. banking system.
Russian opposition leader Ilya Yashin blogs today in a post made "best post of the day" in favour of retiring the Jackson-Vanik Amendment but passing the Magnitsky Act. He describes a recent meeting with Ambassador McFaul about JVA -- and it's good that Russian opposition figures are making clear their support for the Magnitsky bill since McFaul tried to portray the opposition as only interested in JVA.
He then talks about how Russia should not be punished and kept out of the modern world economy and JVA is essentially an anachronism. Ok.
BUT he then proceeds to explain why Magnitsky is good for Russia:
We called on the USA to refrain from discriminatory laws regarding Russia. Instead, once again we proposed supporting, finally, the "Magnitsky List" prepared by a number of senators. This document calls for visa and economic sanctions regarding specific criminal personages in Russia, which were not brought to trial here as a result of collusion with the government.
That is, the principle is thus: stop economic discrimination against Russia, introduce sanctions against Putin's corrupt people. That indeed is the defense of Russian national interests in our understanding.
Yashin seems to get mainly sympathetic comments but of course this is self-selected from readers already following him. Even so, it's clear that this idea of targeted sanctions appeals to people who don't want to look like traitors against their country, fomenting anti-Kremlin attacks from evil imperial USA, but who want to be able to use the force of American interests to pry open justice in Russia -- to tackle Putin's corrupt officials.
I was just reading today that out of 1,000 judgements against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights, only 17 have been fully implemented. That is, Russia will sometimes pay the damages in a number of suits, but won't take any other steps and won't mitigate the generic situation that leads to torture and mistreatment in the justice system. That's just one tip of the injustice iceberg in Russia. The recent decision to de-register the Russian Justice Initiative is another.
Yet McFaul has doubled down against Magnitsky and continues to tweet and Facebook furiously against the linkage, posting articles from Forbes from Mark Adamonis, who opposes the Magnitsky effort and is for repealing JVA without any follow-up (see my comment there).
RIA Novosti ran a piece today quoting McFaul to the effect that the US doesn't fund any Russian political parties.
This is misleading because of course, some of the US government funds dispensed to NDI and IRI, the Democratic Party and Republican Party institutes, are indeed given to Russia. A commenter on McFaul's Facebook comes up with a link showing Boris Nemtsov writing a thank-you letter to IRI for some sort of training grant. These funds aren't very large, but even if all these party institutes do is pay for plane tickets abroad and per diems, that's help.Yes, we get it that the law prohibits direct granting, but come on, we know some of it does trickle through -- and in fact it should, and more should be done.
I think there is nothing shameful in this and in fact a liberal foreign policy has to include giving funds to like-minded groups abroad. Certainly the German parties and the Swedish parties and others do exactly this, with the Greens or the Social Democrats picking out their favourites in Belarus, for example. It's all good.
The problem with this topic, as it has been raised, however, and with McFaul claiming no funds are given, is that in fact, the Administration is raising the idea -- separately -- of having a "gift" pf $50 million in democracy aid to sweeten the bitter pill of having to junk JVA. This would be held out to the "hawks" in Congress (or, as EurasiaNet instructs us to call them now, the "Russophobes" -- of course, nobody remembers how odious this term was used in the hands of Solzhenitsyn and Shafarevich, where it was associated with nationalism and even anti-semitism; criticizing Russia isn't Russophobia but juraphilia).
This $50 million might sound like a lot, but for one, it's "old money" -- money already committed and merely being flagged now. For another, it's not very much -- the lion's share of US money gets spent on the American advisors and their own expenses and little of it trickles down. Even if some direct granting program is created, there are so many hurdles on both sides, but especially in Russia, that it isn't a practical way to help democracy. It's good to do, but it isn't a sufficient replacement for JVA, if that is the goal.
Meanwhile, I don't see why in fact business people shouldn't welcome Magnitsky at least quietly. After all, it goes to the heart of the problem of doing business in Russia: thuggishness, arbitrary confiscation, brutality, even death. Everyone has seen this; many have felt it; some have been driven out of Russia over it. Shouldn't people really interested in business flourishing in Russia care more about getting rid of this nasty underside to it? Or do they really think it only happens to other people, not themselves?
If the back of corruption could be broken on a high-profile case like this, it would be more difficult for it to keep repeating. To be sure, Russia doesn't have a strong precedent legal system (not formally even one at all, but it has weak precedent), and you can never count on anything staying put or remaining symmetrical in Russia except arbitrariness. But still. It would be something. You could build on it. The times in history when Russia has made progress are when the occupant of the Kremlin could admit the government was wrong -- Khrushchev and the 20th Party Congress, Gorbachev and the "white spaces" of glasnost.
It also doesn't harm business at all to have a narrowly-construed piece of legislation that targets only certain individuals directly responsible for these abuses.
A friend I know who was a big supporter of JVA and something of a zakonnik nevertheless objected to Magnitsky as a "bill of attainder" -- as anti-Constitutional punishment meted out to a person or group of persons without due process. Well, that's far-fetched because the bill doesn't mete out jail time but bars people from entry to the country -- which is at the discretion of any state. It bars them until such time Russia *does* prosecute this case fairly -- leaving the prosecution to Russia.
I also got some other comments privately from readers -- some claimed I had the history wrong. There is a very, very, VERY concerted perspective that JVA "hurt" emigration and that what Ford did was in fact a good thing because it gave "leverage" to hold hearings every year to "shine a light" on the problems. Well, that's wrong, because it didn't hurt emigration -- by remaining firm and displaying that resolve, the Americans got the Soviets to yield and let Jews emigrate after an initial period where they demonstratively lowered the numbers to try to blackmail the US into dropping JVA. Then, when Ford put in the waiver, this was in fact under pressure from Kissinger, and Soviet Jewish refusenikes indeed felt it was a dangerous capitulation.
Moreover, the added boon of having hearings every year wasn't really such a blessing, although it created an entire NGO industry (of which I was a part -- I gave testimony to Congress in those days, too). The reason is because of the "doves'" pressure, JVA *could* be waived and therefore the lever was always in danger.
I was also chastised for not including Carter, and skipping from Ford to Reagan in describing how JVA was resumed as leverage. Well, I do recognize the important role that Carter played in making human rights a part of foreign policy; in writing a letter to Academician Andrei Sakharov and so on. But...I lived through this period and I remember it differently. And so do the archives of the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA):
President Ford and Democratic Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter were criticized for their rejection of the Jackson-Vanik amendment in favor of quiet diplomacy as the approach to achieve free emigration for Jews and others in East European countries.
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who has just returned from a six-day "official" visit in Rumania, told members of the UAHC's Executive Committee here today that current hearings in Congress linking emigration to an expansion of the most favored nation status to East European nations, including Rumania, would never be taking place without the leverage of the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
Evans and Novak remember it differently, too, reminding us of Vanik turning against his own amendment, and being persuaded to stop his campaign by Jackson. And Tom Kelly describes how the issue grew more complex with the invasion of Afghanistan, then the imposition of a trade embargo.
My post of the other day was reprinted in inosmi.ru -- but whether by mistake or design, my key point -- that Russia should be graduated PERMANENTLY like China was mistranslated as "TEMPORARILY" -- sigh. That may have accounted for the slew of hate comments, but not entirely. Some of these are no-doubt Russian secret police sock puppets, but most are likely genuinely expressing that "aggressively obedient majority" Soviet-style opinion that has so metastasized in our time. I'm told to shove it, I'm told that Jews had their education paid for by the state and shouldn't get to emigrate until they pay; I'm told to screw off because America is guilty of the Iraq war -- all the predictable arguments that frankly make not a whit of difference.
If anything, seeing those aggressive pro-Kremlin haters in the comments, you realize indeed why you do need the Magnitsky Act, to teach people right from wrong in the most basic sense of justice principles. Whatever the wrongfulness of the invasion of Iraq, the 100,000 civilians massacred there were killed mainly by Iraqi militants and terrorists, some supported by Iran or Syria, with whom we are now struggling. And even if you make this out to be a "wrong" of America's, how would that justify the death of Magnitsky or insisting on justice for his murder and that of journalists and others? It doesn't. And it's ok to use leverage to try to change that, as it is emblematic of a system. Veteran Soviet dissident Pavel Litvinov once explained at a meeting in New York about the Khodorkovsky case that the reason we had to take it up was because arbitrariness in the legal system was something that most every Russian had had an experience of, and the case represented the whole system.
As for the arguments still being aired about JVA as such, Jews shouldn't have to pay the state for the education, as they spent years working in state institutions for pretend money and couldn't build up assets -- in fact many were discriminated from universities on a quota system.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report today, and called for repeal of JVA only on condition of passage of the Magnitsky Act.
This issue has some time to play out. Put together, dropping the application of JVA to give Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) coupled with the Magnitsky bill (1039) could make it easier to pass through the Senate.