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Le Figaro, France

American Senate Delivers an Affront to Russia

By Laure Mandeville

Translated By Lindsey Cambridge

7 December 2012

Edited by Kyrstie Lane

France - Le Figaro - Original Article (French)

What a slap in the face!

For decades, the Russians have been waiting for the repeal of the Jackson–Vanik Amendment, a provision dating from 1974 that imposed limitations on trade with the Soviet Union as a way to protest the obstacles set by the regime on Jewish emigration. As of Thursday, the Jackson–Vanik Amendment no longer exists and numerous senators, including Rob Portman of Ohio, are delighted by the measure, which is likely to boost trade between Russia and the United States. As Portman noted, "the United States, the world's greatest exporter, now only accounts for less than 5 percent of Russia's imports. Our competitors in Europe have a 40 percent share of the Russian market. China holds a 16 percent share of that market."

But there is an issue. And it is sizeable. The senators replaced, at 92 votes against 4, the law regulating trade between the two countries with another amendment, representing a severe affront to Vladimir Putin’s regime. This amendment, known as the Magnitsky Act, bans visas and banking to Russian officials who have been found guilty of severe human rights violations. This law carries the name of Sergei Magnitsky, the 37-year-old Russian lawyer who died in prison under extremely suspicious circumstances after having exposed a corruption ring in the highest spheres of Russian power.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow immediately reacted, outraged, after the adoption of the law, talking about a “theater of the absurd” and promising a “response.” “People who are guilty of these things ought to go to jail,” replied the Democratic representative from Massachusetts, Jim McGovern, one of the authors of the amendment. “But if they are not going to go to jail in Russia, they ought not to have the privilege to take their kids to Disneyworld in the United States. Or use U.S. banks to hide their money.”

The opposition believes that the furor of Russian officials can be explained by the embarrassment brought on by the new bill. “All these guys have property outside Russia, money outside Russia, shares outside Russia, and children who are in American universities and British universities,” explained Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former member of Russian parliament who today is in opposition to the Putin regime. The sword of Damocles hanging over an American territory ban would thus disturb their personal interests, implicitly giving the United States the privilege to oversee what is happening in Russia. In short, Jackson–Vanik disappears but the process remains, exasperating Russian nationalists.

The White House, which “restarted” relations with Moscow, had initially tried to prevent the passage of the bill, considering that it might need Russia, notably in order to put pressure on Iran. But the administration seems to be resigned to the evident failure of Russian politics, throughout which the regime has become stricter internally over the last year and relations have become strained by an almost automatic ricochet effect.

At the moment when the Senate passed the vote, Hillary Clinton, who generally does not mince words as much as the president, spoke in Dublin about attempts by the Russian regime to “re-Sovietize” Eastern Europe and Central Asia, also criticizing its attempts to block the functioning of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It is safe to say that Russian-American relations are going to become even more strained. The question is to what point the Obama administration, absorbed by an economic crisis and high-risk disturbances in the Middle East, will have the desire and the capacity to invest in Russia and the ex-Soviet area. Obama’s first mandate has not been very convincing. For example, the White House remains quite silent at the moment on very worrying events in Georgia, where the new parliamentary majority, directed by the Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, increases intimidation regarding President Mikheil Saakashvili, his team and the minority in parliament. Are we witnessing, in a deafening silence, the burial of democracy in Georgia?



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