May 2013

One Man Against the Kremlin

New York Times

William F. Browder has succeeded in making the Kremlin very angry, which is perhaps the best he could hope for after a remarkable three-year campaign to hold Russian government officials accountable for the wrongful death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, in a Moscow prison in 2009.

Luckily for Mr. Browder, when Russia’s leaders get really mad, they tend to spray the landscape with ammunition that often ends up hitting themselves in the feet, sometimes in the face.

From his London office, decorated with wall-to-wall framed newspaper articles about his case, Mr. Browder keeps turning each incoming attack into further proof that he is dealing with what he calls an evil, murderous, duplicitous and vengeful regime headed by President Vladimir V. Putin.

“What is the crux of the matter?” asked Mr. Browder, a U.S.-born British citizen, answering a question about the recent arrest warrant issued against him by a Moscow court.

“The crux is that in Russia, there is a kleptocracy run by Putin, and all the guys around him,” he said, warming to a familiar theme. “They’re not in their job for the execution of public service; their job is to steal money.”

On the face of it, the Browder vs. Russia match is uneven: One Man Against the Kremlin is almost a comic book title. In fact, it leveled out last December when the U.S. Congress, after heavy lobbying by Mr. Browder, adopted the so-called Magnitsky list, which imposes sanctions on 18 Russian officials alleged to have been complicit in the lawyer’s mistreatment. At that moment, Mr. Browder’s crusade turned into a major diplomatic onslaught, adding another issue to an already tense U.S.-Russia relationship.

Mr. Browder said that the Russian reaction, notably a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, was aimed at Europe, where similar sanctions against Russian officials — visa bans and a freezing of assets — could hurt members of a governing elite who have chosen to shelter their assets, and in some cases their families, there.

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