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Misreading Magnitsky & Congress From Russia

Russian opposition bloggers were ecstatic on Saturday, after the United States House of Representatives passed the so-called Magnitsky Act with bipartisan support on November 16, 2012. Part of a comprehensive bill which would also repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, the Magnitsky Act would ban travel to the United States for government officials implicated in the death of Sergey Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison, allegedly because of torture. The Act is meant to punish these officials, since the circumstances of the case were not properly investigated by the Russian government. The Russian government reacted with a scathing statement criticizing such “meddling” in its internal affairs.

US Senator John McCain speak about Magnitsky at an OSCE summit. YouTube screenshot. November 17, 2012.

Never mind the official response — Russian bloggers covering the passage of the Act appear to regard it as a fait accompli. For example, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (who along with historian Vladimir Kara-Murza actively lobbied [ru] for Magnitsky Act passage) blogged [ru]:

Закон этот принят только потому что в России уничтожено независимое правосудие. Когда оно будет восстановлено, я буду первым, кто будет настаивать на отмене Закона Магнитского.

This law was only adopted because Russia does not have an independent judiciary. When it will be reinstated, I will be the first to demand its repeal.

Oleg Kozyrev similarly blogged [ru]:

Все же у нас есть страна-друг. Это США. Конгресс США принял закон имени Магнитского. Европейские страны также должны дальше продвинуться в принятии этого закона, если действительно разделяют демократические ценности. Страны, не принявшие этого или подобного закона, не могут называть себя друзьями России, ибо друг слушает народ России, а недруг – только российских коррупционеров и отморозков из числа силовиков.

It appears that we do have a friendly country. It's the USA. The USA Congress has adopted the Magnitsky Act. European countries should also move ahead in passing this law, if they really share democratic values. Countries that haven't adopted this or similar law can't call themselves friends of Russia, since a friend listens to the people of Russia, while an enemy – only to corrupt Russian officials and thugs from the security forces.

Twitter user @uumich was even more forthright [ru]:

Палата представителей конгресса США приняла Закон Магнитского!!! Ну что, бляди, доигрались? И это только начало…

The USA House of Representatives adopted the Magnitsky Law!!! Well, bitches, got what you wanted? And that's just the beginning…

Unfortunately for Russian supporters of the Act, it's still far from becoming a law. Perhaps unfamiliarity with the US legislative process is to blame for the misconception that the Act has now “passed.” After all, Russian bloggers can only draw on the Russian system for comparison, and the Russian parliament is to all intents and purposes unicameral.

Back in the States, the Magnitsky Act will now head to the Senate for approval, where, although it has been reported on positively by the Senate Committee on Finance, it can still be filibustered by any single senator when it reaches the floor. Even if it passes the Senate, the Senate version of the bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. After that it will come to the President's desk — who can of course choose to veto the whole thing.

The fact that the Act passed in the House 365 to 43 means very little in terms of actual bi-partisan support. Republicans in Congress have long lobbied for the Act, while the Democratic administration has been neutral on the subject. Since the House is controlled by the Republicans, its passing was all but assured. This was helped along by the fact that voting for the Act was a cost-free way for House Democrats to make a political statement. (In general, once a bill has gathered enough support to pass, it tends to pass by a larger margin than registered support indicates, as congressmen try to cover their bases.)

Since the Democrats control both the Senate and the presidency, there are still plenty of points of failure for the Magnitsky Act, as long as the US administration chooses to pursue its policy of non-confrontation with the Kremlin.


  • […] Should Russia pass legislation to ban Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano from travelling to the Russian Federation? […]

  • If you want to see how right Tselikov is about how Russians fail to understand the U.S. political system, you need go no further than his own failure to understand it as reflected in this article? Does Tselikov even know that Magnitsky is tied to the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, which is something the POTUS desperately wants and something his party supports? Is he aware that nobody thinks the POTUS will veto this law, and that there is no reason whatsoever to believe it won’t sail through the Senate just like it did the House? Does he REALLY believe that a 365-43 vote doesn’t mean anything about the support for the bill? He certainly doesn’t have the guts to go on record predicting that Magnitsky will falter in the Senate or be vetoed. So basically, what he’s written is hypocritical, arrogant gibberish.

    • agoodtreaty

      Kim, Andrey isn’t making any hard predictions precisely because of the contingency highlighted in this post. We welcome comments from readers, but it would be nice if you could actually *read* the posts before commenting. Your second question (did Andrey know that the Magnitsky Act is tied to Jackson-Vanik) boldly ignores the post’s second sentence. Read past the title: it helps.

  • The US Senate has easily and overwhelming passed Magnitsky, by the stunning margin of 92-4, even more lopsided than the House. So the final word is in on the prognostications of this “expert” on the US Congress.

  • The Obama Administration was never “neutral” — it made very clear that it opposed the bill. Amb. McFaul tweeted openly against Magnitsky. Eventually the Administration filed a pro-forma statement of formal policy that constituted a tepid support, but it continued to lobby against it, and Obama supporter Sen. Kerry, who is tagged as possible Secretary of State, pushed hard against it, too, openly, using that same kind of moral-equivalency piety we see from Rothrock and you on Global Voices, namely that the US has “its own problems” and “shouldn’t point the finger” at Russia.

    Nonsense. The US has a viable court system and adversarial defense and a free media — Russia lacks all those things in sufficient strength to prevent and prosecute numerous abuses. Hence Magnitsky.

    And as you know it now passed in the Senate anyway, 92-4, because Sen. Cardin and others managed to keep Jackson-Vanik retirement and Magnitsky together and to prevent a return of the bill to the House over an artificially induced “internationalization”.

    But there’s still the president’s possible veto. And some of his “progressive” pals at the last minute have cooked up a Syria-related gambit to agitate people to stop the entire law again under the guise of concern about seeming to trade with the supporters of mass murder (we already trade with Russia even without these bills). Let’s hope Obama does the right thing here.

  • And for the final nail in this utterly vapid pseudo-analysis by Mr. Teselikov, Obama has signed the law without event.

    No apology, Kevin? No, didn’t think it would come.

  • […] these MPs be included in the list of Russian officials banned from travel to the US by the “Magnitsky Act.” […]

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