With the U.S. Congress set to pass a law to punish Russia for official corruption, the Kremlin is making its displeasure abundantly known. According to this news item from Russia’s Kommersant, passage of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, named for a Russian lawyer employed by an American company whose death looks like a murder-cover-up, is likely to seriously worsen already strained U.S.-Russia relations.
It was announced yesterday that the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee will vote on the bill, known as the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act on June 19. The bill provides for visa and economic sanctions against 60 Russian citizens who, according to Washington, are implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky during his incarceration.
[Editor’s Note: Sergei Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 on charges of tax evasion and fraud after implicating top officials in a complex scheme to defraud the Russian government. His colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators whom he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax returns. The Kremlin’s own human rights council said in 2011 that he was probably beaten to death.]
Moscow still hopes the Magnitsky Act fails to pass. “If something that outrageous does happen, our reaction will be complex, multifaceted, and extremely harsh,” says Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. According to him, the Kremlin could lash out with a “series of retaliatory negative measures,” although he didn’t delve into specifics. “I do hope we don’t have to do that,” he added.
An anonymous Kommersant source in the Kremlin elaborated that the most likely response to the Act’s passage will be an expansion of the list of “inadmissible” Americans. “We will take steps to mirror the American measures. If they deny someone entry, so will we. If they expand their list, so will we.”
The head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, made clear that this time Moscow may not limit its response to symmetrical measures. “The interests of American business in Russia may be affected,” he said. “The government always has the option of taking a more-or-less positive stance on any number of investment projects.” According to Mr. Pushkov, this need not involve new legislation. “It is simply a matter of attitude. Remember, when Sberbank wanted to buy Opel, the deal was blocked not on the basis of law, but the negative reaction it evoked in Germany’s ruling circles, and – I think – this is the case in the U.S. as well,” Pushkov said.
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