Tags: Ukraine | magnitsky | kremlin | ukraine | kiev

Kremlin Brutality Reined In by Magnitsky Act

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Friday, 17 Oct 2014 01:08 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The deadly Ebola epidemic and the growing menace of ISIS militants in the Middle East have swept the crisis in Ukraine off the front pages.

But renewed calls for assistance to the Kiev government of President Petro Poroshenko are sure to be heard when Congress returns for a lame duck session following the November elections.

Many Republican lawmakers are already calling for a Lend-Lease-style form of assistance to Ukraine akin to that which the U.S. provided the United Kingdom and China before America itself entered World War II.

Other members of Congress are expected to call for even tougher sanctions against the Putin regime in Moscow. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R.-N.C., chairman of House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has even called for sanctions that “will get Mr. Putin's colleagues in the Kremlin upset enough to convince him to change his policies, or failing that, to depose him."

But the sanctions that hit hardest at the Kremlin are already on the books in the U.S. in the form of the Magnitsky Act. Enacted by Congress in 2013 with 84 percent of the votes in the House of Representatives and 92 percent of the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama, the Magnitsky Act specifically targets the assets within and visits to the U.S. by key people in and around the Kremlin.

The reason for imposing these sanctions is the fate of the valiant Russian for whom they are named: Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer in Moscow who concluded in 2008 that the government short-changed a private corporation $5.4 billion rubles (roughly $230 million) that he charged went instead to corrupt officials.

Pressured by the Kremlin to back off from his charges, a defiant Magnitsky spoke out and was subsequently arrested and jailed. He died in prison in 2009 at age 37 under still un-explained circumstances.

A commission under then-President Dmitri Medvedev concluded Magnitsky was essentially murdered because he was denied proper medical treatment and beaten on the last day of his life. Voicing concern, Medvedev introduced legislation forbidding pre-trial detention for economic crimes that do not involve violence.

But this has not changed the practice and, according to Lyudmila Alexeyeva (founding member of the pro-human rights Moscow Helsinki Group), “approximately one-third of the estimated 800,000 inmates in Russian prisons are individuals deprived of freedom on this basis.” Magnitsky, in fact, was tried as a dead man by the government and found guilty of fraud.

Under the original Magnitsky Act, the Obama administration initially placed 18 Russians on the list for asset seizure. In May of this year, it added 10 more Russians to the list, meaning that any of their U.S. assets will be seized and they are banned from traveling to the U.S.

Sanctions historically work less than half the time. As the cases of South Africa and Burma demonstrate, however, sanctions do succeed when imposed not just by one country but a good portion of the international community.

Russian-born journalist Elena Servettaz, whose “Truth Hour”program is a fixture on Radio France International, makes a case for the 28-Member European Union to take up Magnitsky sanctions.

In “Why Europe Needs A Magnitsky Act,” Servettaz edits more than 50 articles by and interviews with opinion leaders from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Russia itself.

“Cogent,” “provocative,” and “chilling” are just a few of the adjectives required to accurately characterize Servettaz’s assembly of powerful voices.

As with Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” or Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” one senses that hers is a book which might be noticed in Russia.

From U.S. Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., to one-time Russian politician prisoner Vladimir Bukovsky to the widow and daughter respectively of renegade FSB (Russian intelligence) officer Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned mysteriously in 2006 with radioactive polonium-210) and TV journalist Anna Politkovskaya (another Kremlin critic who was shot in the hallway of her apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006 — Putin’s birthday), Servettaz’s subjects all conclude that the best service Europe can provide the Russian people themselves is the internationalize the sanctions the U.S. has pioneered in the name ofSergei Magnitsky.

A Despotic Third World Banana Republic

Russia is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, which means they are pledged to human rights and to permitting outside monitoring of domestic developments in member-nations.

But rather than behave like a responsible nation, Russia, says Marcus Kolga of the Central and Eastern European Council of Canada, “resembles the behavior of a despotic third world banana republic” and “like[s] to follow the repressive model adopted by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus,” according to Russian politician Vladimir Kara-Murza.

From Servettaz’s collected interviews and essays, this is delineated carefully. The Putin-orchestrated downfall of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man until jailed in ’03, his business associate Platon Lebedev, and the vice president of their oil company Vasily Aleksanyan (who died at age 39 in pre-trial detention after being denied lifesaving medical care) is retold by several subjects in vivid detail.

One particularly heinous act of Putin and company was their response to the U.S. enactment of the Magnitsky Act and even hints of it by other nations.

After 20 years and 60,000 adoptions of Russian children/orphans by Americans, Moscow abruptly banned the practice after Magnitsky sanctions took effect last year.

When there was merely discussion of Ireland passing similar sanctions in March 2013, Russian Ambassador to Dublin Maksim Peshkov sent the Irish parliament a note threatening to pass an Irish version of the “anti-orphan” law as adopted against the USA and other sanctions. Accordingly, Ireland’s Parliamentary Committee watered down proposed financial and visa restrictions on Russians related to Magnitsky’s death.

Even respect for the sovereignty of other countries is cavalierly violated by Russia. After police brutally put down peaceful protests over the validity of elections in May 2012, they sought out leaders of the demonstrations. One of them, Leonid Razvozzhayev, was kidnapped while in the sovereign territory of Ukraine and forcibly repatriated to Russia to be held for two days before signing a “confession.”

The Razvozzhayev affair proved a “sneak preview” of the recent and murky fate of Ukrainian Air Force Lt. Nadezhda Savchenko, her nation’s lone woman pilot of attack helicopters. On June 17, with hostilities broken out between Russia and Ukraine, Savchenko was forcibly seized by Russian proxies while in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, then bound and gagged and sent to the Russian prison in Voronezh. She is now charged with the murder of Russian journalists.

Knock Putin Off His Throne

There are major questions raised by Servettaz’s subjects as to whether the EU will make such a bold move as Magnitsky sanctions against Russia.

“Faced with the choice between human rights and gas,” former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told her, “”politicians pick gas.”

Putin himself knows the weaknesses of European politicians, Nemtsov noted, and thus practices what the opposition leader calls a “Schroederization” of Europe. (Referring to the hiring of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as a top executive by the Russian oil colossus Gasprom, this means the buying off of European politicians and businessmen.)

“This so-called ‘realpolitik,’” the former deputy prime minister quickly added, “may be tactically attractive, but strategically it is insane. Europe became a place to which many people across the world are attracted precisely because it maintained its base values and principles. Denying these base values and principles, closing your eyes to the problems that exist in the world, especially in Russia will lead step-by-step to the degradation of Europe.”

Although it is uncertain when or if the EU will move on Magnitsky sanctions, it is inarguable that they are the weapon that would have the greatest impact on Russia and its leaders.

“It is no secret that a significant share of Russia’s ill-gotten gains from Russia’s state corruption — estimated by the World Bank at 48 percent of the country’s GDP — ends up in the Western banking system,” says Putin foe Kara-Murza.

Human rights dissident Vladimir Bukovsky agrees: “The West is a safe harbor for [Russian officials], because this is where they park their money, their children and their families. A rather cynical dualism, so to speak. This is why the act hits them so hard.”

Putin himself “likes to visit Europe, go skiing, shake hands, meet with people at the G-8, etc.,” says Nemtsov. He pointed out that although the Russian elites support him because he guarantees their security at home and at the international level, “as soon as he ceases to guarantee it, they will cease tolerating him.”

World chess champion Garry Kasparov goes even further. A Magnitsky Act by the EU, he says, “deprives the Russian elite of their impunity and will ultimately knock Putin off his throne.”

Individual tragedy by little-known people sometimes is the match needed to ignite international changes. Russian author Alexander Podrabinek cites the examples of Poland’s Communist regime shaken by the murder of Roman Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszko by the its security police and the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi sparking the “Arab Spring” in 2011 that eventually brought down three Arab regimes.

The essays and interviews in Servettaz’s book make a mighty case that Sergei Magnitsky and his death should at the very least belong with both of them. With Crimea annexed to Russia, with Russian tanks heading across the Ukrainian borders and proxy fighters dealing with nationals in eastern Ukraine, has not history added its early vindication as well?

To read more, the book, "Why Europe Needs A Magnitsky Law" (www.magnitskybook.com) covers the matter in great detail. 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

 


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John-Gizzi
The sanctions that hit hardest at the Kremlin are in the form of the Magnitsky Act.
magnitsky, kremlin, ukraine, kiev
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2014-08-17
Friday, 17 Oct 2014 01:08 PM
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