US visa blacklist threatens to derail reset

Some members of the US Senate are attempting to push through legislation that would place up to 60 Russian nationals, which Washington alleges are connected in some way to the prison death of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, on a “visa blacklist.”

­Commenting on the Senate bill delivered last week, Washington unveiled plans for its visa blacklist, as well as a move to freeze assets belonging to certain individuals.

“Secretary [Hillary Rodham] Clinton has taken steps to ban individuals associated with the wrongful death of Sergey Magnitsky from traveling to the United States,” the Senate document said.

“Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond … if this [Senate] legislation passes,” the document reads. Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time.

Despite lingering uncertainties over the Obama administration’s commitment to a true “reset” in bilateral relations with Russia, aggravated by Washington’s insistence on constructing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe without Russia’s participation, Moscow continues to be a reliable ally on many fronts. The proposed draconian legislation by the US Senate, however, threatens to put an end to Russia’s cooperation.

Russian officials have also warned that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on military transit flights to Afghanistan, could be threatened if this legislation passes.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would respond to questions on the issue but perhaps not until later in the week. Thus far, the United States Embassy in Russia has declined to comment on US media reports that the U.S. State Department has imposed visa restrictions on up to 60 Russian officials, presumably linked to the death of Hermitage Capital Management lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

“We cannot comment on this,” an unnamed US Embassy official told Interfax on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Moscow was warned against outside pressure being exerted in the case of the 37-year-old lawyer who died while in pretrial detention. 

Investigators alleged that Sergey Magnitsky had conspired with William Browder, who has reportedly been banned from entering Russia, to set up dummy front firms to illegally buy and sell shares in Russian energy giant Gazprom. In November 2009, Magnitsky died in prison following complications from an apparent case of pancreatitis.

This month, the authorities announced prison doctors would be prosecuted for neglecting to provide the appropriate medical care for Magnitsky while he was being detained.

The head of the Federal Penitentiary Service said last year that the service was partially responsible for the death of the lawyer.

Following Magnitsky’s death, President Dmitry Medvedev put a law on the fast track that allows individuals suspected of “white collar crimes,” as they are referred to in the West, to be released on bail as determined by the courts.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the death a “tragedy.”

Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma, or lower house, has been considering a bill that would target US officials with similar sanctions, referring to the extradition of Russian citizens from third-party countries.

In 2010, alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen, was extradited to the United States following a lengthy legal battle in Thailand. Bout, who has been the inspiration for at least one Hollywood film, now faces an uphill struggle to prove his innocence in the US court system.

Robert Bridge, RT

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