The House sent mixed signals to Russia today as it established permanent normal trade relations with the country, but slapped visa restrictions and a financial freeze on Russian officials allegedly involved in the 2009 death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal Act and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 passed in an overwhelming 365-43 vote.
“I do not dispute that our relationship with Russia has many challenges,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Wash.) said in a floor speech. “On the commercial front, we face weak enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights as well as discriminatory standards for U.S. agricultural products. Russia’s recent adoption of the WTO’s rules should address many of these issues, but this bill goes farther by requiring the Administration to stay focused on Russia by making sure that it lives up to its WTO obligations, resolves outstanding trade issues with Russia, and improves the rule of law in Russia.”
“…Much as I believe that Russia does not always act responsibly, I also believe that this legislation cannot be seen as rewarding Russia,” Camp continued. “Instead, any benefit that is conferred is on U.S. job creators. I also fully share the concerns of many of my colleagues on Russia’s abysmal human rights record, and that is why I support adding the Magnitsky legislation to this bill, on the third anniversary of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky while imprisoned.”
Magnitsky, a tax attorney, had uncovered large-scale fraud and theft within the Russian government. He was held 11 months without trial and died eight days before he would have had to have been released under law. Russian officials say he had a heart attack, but investigations have revealed he was tortured, beaten, and denied medical treatment.
“Congressmen have ignored the repeated warnings that this step would have a negative impact on the general atmosphere of Russian-US relations and will not go without a tough response from our side,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released immediately following the House vote.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited President Obama to visit Russia — perhaps to check out the flexibility promised to Dmitry Medvedev before the election.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also met today with Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov to discuss the legislation and the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia.
“Sergei Magnitsky was unjustly incarcerated without trial, suffered maltreatment at the hands of his captors, and died mysteriously while in detention. His heroic refusal to support corruption led many Russian citizens, including leaders like Boris Nemtsov, to band together to combat officially sanctioned corruption and extralegal activities of the state,” Cantor said. “I hope with Russia’s accession to the WTO, and the House vote today, Russia’s leaders will enact reforms that root out corruption and empower their citizens with economic and political freedoms that have long been denied them.”