The Cable

Congress has a new Russia caucus

Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization. Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last ...

Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last month after returning from a trip to Moscow. They are the only two members of the caucus, just yet, but they’re canvassing for new members now. They plan to build connections with Russian officials, increase legislative exchanges with the Russian Duma, and advocate for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 U.S. law that prevents the United States from granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.

"When you think about Russia, they are an important nation in an important part of the world. And we have to make sure we begin to work with them in a post-Cold War way," Meeks told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Meeks said he has been coordinating with the Obama administration, which is supporting Russia’s WTO bid as part of its overall effort to reset relations with Russia.

"The administration was very appreciative of us starting this caucus; they thought it was a good idea. They said they looked forward to working with us," Meeks said.

Both Meeks and Burton said they were encouraged to start the caucus after meeting with American businessmen and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. Both denied they had benefited financially as a result of their efforts on behalf of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

"We want to engage Russians on economics and trade affairs," Burton said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable.  Regarding the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, Burton said, "That’s something that the Congress has to do for the U.S. to get all the benefits of Russia joining the WTO. If that doesn’t happen, Russia would be entitled to all its benefits [as a WTO member] but the U.S. would be disadvantaged."

Russia’s accession to the WTO and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik "would be good for Russia and the world," Burton said.

Burton’s position on Russian accession to the WTO and Jackson-Vanik puts him in direct opposition to his own committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said in July that repeal of Jackson-Vanik was impossible. And she’s no fan of Russia’s once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin.

"Putin’s present-day Russia is taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day," Ros-Lehtinen said in July. "The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the U.S. or an improvement in Russia’s human rights record."

Meeks and Burton both also said that they could use the caucus to press Russia toward more progress on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.

"We do care about those things. What we’re going to do is open a dialogue on all these things so we can move in the right direction," Burton said.

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