U.S. Senate Lifts Russia, Moldova Trade Barriers; Passes Magnitsky Sanctions

Radio Free Europe

The U.S. Senate has voted to permanently lift Cold War-era barriers to trade with Russia, a move long sought by Moscow that could increase commerce between the countries by billions of dollars.

In the same vote, senators also voted to sanction Russian officials implicated in the death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and in other perceived gross rights violations in Russia.

Moscow has railed against that move, which has overshadowed the trade benefits to come.

The Senate’s 92-4 vote follows the passing of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in November. U.S. President Barack Obama is now expected to sign it into law.

When he does, Moscow will be exempted from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which imposed trade restrictions on the Soviet Union for its policy of limiting Jewish emigration. The restrictions have been waived for nearly two decades, but remained on the books as a symbol of U.S. objections to Russia’s human rights record.

Citing the weak U.S. economy, the White House had pushed Congress to lift the restrictions and grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to Russia, the world’s seventh largest economy.

The move allows the United States to take full advantage of Moscow’s August entry into the World Trade Organization, which China and Europe have already benefited from.

Over White House objections, lawmakers from both parties said they would only agree to lift the restrictions if the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act were passed concurrently.

The legislation requires Obama to publicly name, deny visas to, and freeze the U.S.-based assets of Russian officials the United States has implicated in Magnitsky’s prosecution and death, as well as officials implicated in other gross violations in Russia who have acted with impunity.

‘The Right Side Of History’

In determining who will be sanctioned, the president is expected to work from a list of more than 60 Russian officials compiled by lawmakers who introduced the legislation.

Obama can decide to keep the identities of some of the sanctioned officials classified for national security reasons.

The earliest and most passionate advocate of sanctions in Congress was Senator Benjamin Cardin (Democrat-Maryland). In a December 5 speech in the Senate, he urged his colleagues to vote “yes:”

“Our actions [to pass this] are for the Russian people and its government,” he said. “I’ve heard from so many human rights activists in Russia, from Russian business leaders, [and] from ordinary citizens who tell me, ‘Russia can do better!’ And they urge us to move forward with the Magnitsky Accountability Act. The United States, with the passage of this bill, will be on the right side of history.”

Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona), who supported the law, said “the Magnitsky Act is an improvement on Jackson-Vanik and an ideal replacement for it” because it “does not make all Russians pay for the crimes of a small handful of corrupt officials.”

Senators also cited new Russian laws restricting civil society and freedom of speech as further reason to take a stand on the country’s rights record.

The 37-year-old Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison three years ago after implicating top officials in a scheme to defraud the government of $230 million.

He was repeatedly denied medical care and allegedly tortured during nearly a year in pre-trial detention on what supporters say were trumped up financial crimes charges.

Russia has prosecuted only one low-level prison official linked to his death, while promoting a number others implicated in the case.

The incident prompted an international outcry and several Western countries are considering enacting Magnitsky-related sanctions.

David Satter, a senior fellow at Washington’s Hudson Institute, suggests that Moscow might respond to the U.S. move by “taking out their anger in unrelated cases” or increasing its anti-American rhetoric, but they may be reluctant to directly mention the sanctions.

“I’m not certain that in terms of their public posture, Russian officials are going to want to call the attention of the Russian population to this piece of legislation,” Sutter explains, “because that also calls the attention of people to [the government’s] own abuses,”

The U.S. Senate also joined the House in voting to grant Moldova normalized trade status, a victory for Europe’s poorest country. срочный займ на карту онлайн займы онлайн на карту срочно https://zp-pdl.com/fast-and-easy-payday-loans-online.php https://zp-pdl.com/get-a-next-business-day-payday-loan.php займ на карту

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