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Leading Russian dissident: We want human rights sanctions against Putin’s people

The United States shouldn’t lift trade sanctions against Russia without replacing them with targeted actions against Russia’s worst human rights violators, a top Russia opposition leader told The Cable today. The Obama administration has been touting the fact that Russia’s opposition leaders want America to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that prevents the United States ...

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

The United States shouldn't lift trade sanctions against Russia without replacing them with targeted actions against Russia's worst human rights violators, a top Russia opposition leader told The Cable today.

The Obama administration has been touting the fact that Russia's opposition leaders want America to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that prevents the United States from granting Russian Permanent Normal Trade Status (PNTR) and taking full advantage of Russia's new membership in the WTO. But according to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, co-chairman of the People's Freedom Party, also known as the "Solidarity" movement, the United States shouldn't do that without replacing those sanctions with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011 -- legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago.

"We are for replacement of Jackson-Vanik with the Magnitsky bill," Nemtsov told The Cable in a Wednesday interview.

The United States shouldn’t lift trade sanctions against Russia without replacing them with targeted actions against Russia’s worst human rights violators, a top Russia opposition leader told The Cable today.

The Obama administration has been touting the fact that Russia’s opposition leaders want America to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that prevents the United States from granting Russian Permanent Normal Trade Status (PNTR) and taking full advantage of Russia’s new membership in the WTO. But according to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, co-chairman of the People’s Freedom Party, also known as the "Solidarity" movement, the United States shouldn’t do that without replacing those sanctions with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011 — legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago.

"We are for replacement of Jackson-Vanik with the Magnitsky bill," Nemtsov told The Cable in a Wednesday interview.

"We believe that sanctions against the state are absolutely ineffective, absolutely anti-Russian and against the U.S.-Russian relationship, because for Putin, he can say Jackson-Vanik is not against the Russian state but against the Russian people, which is bad," he said. "Much more promising is adoption of the Congress of the Magnitsky bill and I strongly support this bill. It’s absolutely easy."

Nemtsov noted that U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Mike McFaul said Tuesday that the administration would not support any human rights legislation as a replacement for the repeal of Jackson-Vanik. But Nemtsov said that will be viewed in Russia as a U.S. capitulation to Putin.

"I know that some people are against that, including McFaul and the White House, but I don’t think this is good. Because for Putin, cancelling Jackson-Vanik  means that he won," he said. "And when Russia has no rule of law system, no independent court system, and corrupt bureaucrats are absolutely safe in Putin’s Russia. The only way to protect human rights in Russia is adopt such a bill as the Magnitsky bill, which is absolutely crucial for us."

Corrupt Russian bureaucrats shouldn’t be able to visit the United States and buy property and invest, Netmsov said, arguing that the United States has to protect its reputation as standing up for human rights and the rule of law and not become complicit in the activities of corrupt officials.

Last week’s election of Putin was neither free nor fair nor a reflection of the views of the Russian people, Nemtsov claimed. Opposition leaders didn’t run, Putin chose the candidates and the terms, there were no debates, and fraud was widespread, he said.

"It was not an election at all. It was a special KGB operation for Putin’s corrupt team to keep power in Russia," he said.

Nemtsov said he doesn’t think the U.S.-Russia reset policy can continue under Putin because the president-elect’s core message is that the United States and the State Department is working to undermine the Russian government and fund the opposition, a charge McFaul has repeated denied.

"Putin said that all of the problems in Russia come from the U.S. because the U.S. wants to colonize Russia. Of course it’s stupid and sounds like paranoia, but that’s what he says every day."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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