In recent weeks, we have witnessed a sharp deterioration of the Russian-American relations. The two countries had previously been on the verge of a confrontation on the Syrian issue, and after the adoption of the “Magnitsky Act” and the “Law of Dima Yakovlev” became simply frozen. Are there any prospects and constructive solutions to real problems?
It may seem at first glance that both laws were a regular diplomatic showdown. However, this is not the case. It is a question of interference in the internal affairs of each other, and the “achieved results” reduce willingness to discuss anything at all, let alone to establish an atmosphere of partnership. “Sergei Magnitsky Act – the Rule of Law and Responsibility” was introduced to the Senate by Ben Cardin, Democratic Senator from Maryland and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in 2010. Initially, it did not single out Russia, and was proposed for all countries.
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The essence of the bill was that the United States condemned the arrests on made-up charges followed by physical elimination of political opponents and punishment of the perpetrators. We will not discuss bias and peculiarities of the American mentality. There is another issue. In the subsequent interpretation of the law by the White House the bill clearly became anti-Russian. Its comprehensiveness evaporated. A list of 60 Russian officials was compiled (mostly from law enforcement agencies, courts and tax authorities) allegedly responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky. They were denied entry to the U.S., and their accounts were frozen.
It was announced that the list was open, and the State Department could add to it more Russian citizens accused of illegal persecution of the opposition. President Vladimir Putin has called Magnitsky Act “a purely political, non-amicable act.” American “experts on Russia” (Vladimir Sobell, Edward Lozansky, and Stephen F Cohen) had even harsher criticism of the law. They warned that it violated the rule of law, was contrary to the American values and undermined the U.S. national security, as it provided for sanctions based on unproven allegations, without due process of law.
Of course, the “Magnitsky Act” has achieved its goal in terms of possible damage to the Russian establishment, especially if it is joined by the European Union, as urged by the Americans. Many Russian officials have significant property and financial interests in Europe, not the U.S. Russia’s response also caused a lot of controversy. In fact, there were two responses, one was emotional, by the Duma, and the other one was much more appropriate – by the government. The U.S. refuses to sign the UN Convention on Children’s Rights, so pressure in this issue was appropriate. However, “The Law of Dima Yakovlev” revealed that the situation of orphans in Russia was far from perfect. In the Caucasus, for example, this problem does not exist, and Sergei Sobyanin, while serving as the governor of Tyumen region, has eliminated it. “The Law of Dima Yakovlev” has also achieved its goal as the Americans drew attention to the issue of children’s rights in their country, and was also regarded as interference in the internal affairs of the United States. However, a stronger Russian response was another law, namely, the prohibition of activities in Russia of political NGOs funded by the U.S., as well as non-profit organizations whose activities pose a threat to Russian interests.
It is no secret that the political opposition in Russia relies on the U.S. money that comes from various alleged public funds, but is actually funded by the State Department and the CIA. The amendment, approved by the Parliament in late December, allows forming a “black list” of opposition groups that would be easily calculated from the “Magnitsky list”. Thus, the U.S. initiative solves nothing in terms of “support and protection of the opposition in Russia.”
The question is, when, finally, the U.S. State Department would understand that it is spending too much time on futile attempts to force Russia to live by their rules? Why do the Americans not get tired of pecking the Russian government instead of tackling pressing issues? Why do they not try to build cooperation in Afghanistan? Even here Congress can find a reason to interfere with the contract for the supply of Russian helicopters. It turns out that “Rosoboronexport” – the main supplier of arms to Bashar Assad – cannot be condoned.
This makes one think of the “double standard”. If they are to condemn corruption and authoritarianism, shouldn’t they do it everywhere, not just in Russia? Is Wahhabi state of Saudi Arabia that does not have a constitution authoritarian? Does Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers shed their blood, have corruption? The situation, according to the emotional response of the State Duma shared by President Putin, could spin out of control. This is not in the interest of both countries. After all, Russia and the U.S. control 90 – 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world and are the only countries that can destroy each other and the entire world in a nuclear war. 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on the limitation of the power of nuclear tests to 150 kilotons (the first of its kind).
Why doesn’t the State Duma ask Congress to ratify the Treaty on Comprehensive Test Ban? The United States could join Russia and a number of countries that have ratified it, resulting in what could be a new view of the Iranian nuclear program. There is also a dispute over missile defense in Europe, while NATO and Russia say they want to work in this field. Both sides say they want the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
Where are the breakthroughs? Another area of common interest is the expansion of trade and investment relations. With the accession of Russia to the WTO there can be a potential. American businesses want to work in Russia, why not agree on some major joint projects? But it seems that nobody wants it because confrontation brings the governments (not the citizens) more dividends (mainly from the activities of the MIC) than peaceful cooperation.