This is absolutely disgraceful.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has moved to delay passage of the Magnitsky Bill.
As Foreign Policy's The Cable reports:
Last month, Kerry indicated that the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011 would be brought up for a vote at the April 26 SFRC business meeting and he also endorsed the idea of combining the Magnitsky bill with a bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status and repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law. "In good faith, we will move as rapidly as we can, hopefully the minute we're back, but certainly shortly thereafter," Kerry said March 27, just before the last Senate recess.
But after what several Senate aides described as intense lobbying from top Obama administration officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Kerry decided not to put the bill on the agenda of the next business meeting, delaying consideration of the bill until May at the earliest, after the visit to the U.S. of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin.
I recall that when I first heard this a few weeks ago and then read the phrase "good faith," I immediately began to doubt that the good faith would be coming from this man who is rumoured to seek appointment to the position of Secretary of State under the second Obama Administration.
He just wasn't sturdy enough on the merits of the case for Magnitsky in the first place, and just too busy trying to placate the Russians, as he has in the past.
In my own most recent post, I specified that I thought that a resolution had to be passed to ensure that Russia was permanently graduated from the application of Jackson-Vanik. And I noted that I did not believe that we could exclusively link that act with the passage of the Magnitsky Bill simply because J-V is about emigration and non-market states, not a device for review of all of Russia's human rights record (although it was always used as such). But I nonetheless urged that Magnitsky immediately be passed after J-V's application was retired precisely because such follow-up is indeed needed with Russia.
Human rights concerns remain grave, and we have now seen not only crackdowns following Putin's manipulated elections, we have seen even human rights defenders like Svetlana Gannushkina, who was prepared to cooperate with the Russian presidential human rights commission for the sake of her cause (improvement of the treatment of refugees and migrant workers) now demonstratively stepping down in protest.
Politics being what they are on the Hill, it was thought that the two legislative acts really had to be technically linked so that senators had the clout to bring those wavering on Magnitsky along, precisely because the imperative of J-V was looming, given Russia's entry into the WTO.
For one, I'm finding unpersuasive the claims that the losses to US business would be large if it lost favourable treatment from Russia. For two, I'm wondering if the annual graduation of Russia that waives J-V application would placate the WTO especially if there were a timetable for passage of permanent graduation given -- states do this sort of thing all the time with international bodies. (Like, you know, Russia did when it joined the Council of Europe with the pledge to prosecute massacres in Chechnya -- which it has never done.)
Even if it turns out business losses would be "catastrophic" (to Silicon Valley and the defense industries?), or the WTO would insist on permanent graduation, there is absolutely no reason not to pass the Magnitsky Bill, because if anything, that helps mitigate both the rampant corruption that hobbles American business efforts in Russia, making it even dangerous, and it helps lesson the protest about collusion with human rights violations and starts to reverse the impunity.
The Russians have unsurprisingly begun howling and making extremely thuggish statements (which outs the nature of those in power in Moscow and explains -- again -- why we need the Magnitsky Bill in the first place). But their bluff needs to be called, and as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov said years ago to the detentniks wavering on human rights, you have to remain firm about your principles with the Russians, and you have to be prepared for backlash and remain strong. Indeed.
It's astounding that the US ambassador, Michael McFaul, and various Russian officials, could claim with a straight face that the prosecution of a handful of human rights offenders for a death in detention, and the righting of the wrongs in a corrupt hustle of tax payments, could somehow affect all of Russian-US relations across the board. Um, is Putin's perch on power that unstable? Is the Cap of Monomakh really burning on his head, as caps do on thieves in the old Russian tales?
Unless, of course, as is rumoured, the corruption Magnitsky uncovered goes all the way to the top. But even so, couldn't these guys "manage" the story the way they "manage" democracy and elections?
The fact is, business alone and trade alone do not bring democracy and the rule of law, as some business people like to theorize because it benefits them personally. Business in fact can't thrive until there is the rule of law, and that has to be built up brick by brick in a place like Russia that has seen arbitrary rule and lawlessness and legal nihilism for so long. One of the keystones of that edifice is indeed justice on the Magnitsky case -- both ending the impunity on his torture and death, and putting right the corruption he uncovered. Surely the Kremlin won't fall if this is done, and will only be strengthened, right?
Now we ask the same thing of Obama and his second Administration. Surely the re-election and the "re-set" can't fail over doing justice in a murder case and ending a tax corruption case? And if it could, wouldn't have been built on sand then in the first place?
I don't understand why we have Vladimir Putin scheduled for a big summit just because he is coming over to visit this country again in connection with the G-8. He has not made progress on arms agreement and Russia has thwarted US policy at every turn, whether on narcotics control in Afghanistan or policies on Iran or Syria. Why is he being gifted with a summit at this time?
Disgracefully, the implication with this delay is that we should first make nice to Vova, then after he is well gone and whatever deals locked down for Boeing or IBM that then Magnitsky could be safely passed.
But it really is just the opposite -- the only thing that EVER makes sense with the Kremlin is to show strength and resolve, to plan for the backlash, and to keep the resolve. The only thing that has ever worked.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak has claimed this is "policitized" which is the ancient Russian lament. Yes, it's about American politics, and yes, American politics are all about whether you can trust Russia in deals that may affect national security and national interests and the answer is, Sergei: no, you can't, because they let lawyers die in prison or get shot by the people they're trying to prosecute, and because tax payments get heisted God knows where. That's why. Missiles can be reduced and re-sets reset when you have government with basic good faith and civilian oversight. Not before. A really vital component for this process -- as Sakharov wrote again and again -- is the connection between -- and sequencing -- of human rights and peace.
The Cable says "there are several senators ready to hold up PNTR for Russia if the Magnitsky bill isn't considered in conjunction" -- I take it this is Sen. Kyle and some others. Good! I hope they remain firm on this. Otherwise, the cause is lost not only for human rights inside Russia but for the American defense position.
Amb. Kislyak is completely specious -- in the fine propagandistic traditions of his Soviet predecessors -- in claiming that American human rights problems or the criminal cases of adoptive American parents who have killed their adopted children -- are somehow equivalents to Magnitsky's death in confinement and the tax corruption case. They aren't.
The tragedy of the few Americans out of the numerous adoptive parents who have killed their own adopted children from Russia is the tragedy not of the state, or the state's policy, but a non-state actor. That's a crime, not a human rights violation, and that distinction does matter in terms of how you assess the trustworthiness of a whole nation.
I have to add: Americans have proved challenged indeed by the enormous social distress of Russia in its post-Soviet generations, which has spawned so many children in orphanages to start with. In my view, and the view of many who have dealt with Russia for decades, it has never acknowledged and treated its own massive post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the Communist mass crimes against humanity, in part because those crimes were never definitively acknowledge and prosecuted in any fashion. The dislocations of post-communist life have perpetuated the social ills begun under oppressive Soviet life -- massive alcoholism and drug abuse have produced a generation of children suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and other ailments. That's the social context for these crimes that require far more care than just a facile and tendentious moral equivalence between the murdered adopted children and the murdered lawyer in prison.
I'd like to get a more straight story on why Sen. Lugar first seemed to be all for passing the bill, then came out for delaying it, and now his communications officer is saying the staff raised no objections. Huh? This is the best they can do when they are rolled by Obama lieutenants?
Well, this isn't Swift Boat. But this Swift Boot from Kerry ought to be looked at very hard in considering how to vote in the next election. I've made up my mind not to help bring about Obama II personally, after originally voting for Obama in 2008 -- for many reasons. This disgraceful cave to the Kremlin has reinforced it.