In the next few days, the House and the Senate will almost certainly vote on and pass the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. The bill is named after a 37-year old lawyer who was tortured to death in a Moscow prison after he uncovered an elaborate scheme that had defrauded the Russian treasury of $230 million. November 16th will be the third anniversary of his death.
The Magnitsky Act would deny entry to the United States and freeze the assets and property of those individuals responsible for this embezzlement, the death of Sergei Magnitsky, and its cover up, as well as any current or future abuse of human and political rights.
The anti-Putin opposition in Russia has overwhelmingly supported the Magnitsky Act. Even leftists and nationalists have been ardently in favor. Just as vehemently, the Kremlin has denounced the legislation, crying “interference in its internal affairs” and threatening an “appropriate response.”
The “interference” objection has not a leg to stand on. The legislation is directed not against Russia but against those who torment and defraud it. Moreover, Russia and the Soviet Union—to which Russia is the legal successor—are party to multiple agreements, most notably the Helsinki Act of 1976 and its subsequent iterations that explicitly make human and political rights subject to international scrutiny.
As for the Kremlin’s response, Russians on the internet have had tons of fun with it: “No more shopping trips to Moscow by the wives of US officials!” “No more Black Sea vacations for them!” “US officials will be prohibited from keeping their money in Russian banks and their children denied admissions to Russian colleges!”
Although it might precipitate a petty tit-for-tat, the Magnitsky Act is part of something far larger than mere ups and downs in US-Russian relations. It is a long overdue step reaffirming the core values that guide US foreign policy and advancing what is—or ought to be—one of its key, overarching geostrategic objectives: The emergence of a stable, free, and democratic Russian state at peace, in the long last, with its own people and the world.