Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Attacks on Magnitsky Act show US is still Putin’s favorite bogeyman

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Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continued Russia’s attacks against the Magnitsky Act – a law punishing Russian human rights violators – this week, calling it “odious” and assuring his audience that the Kremlin would “retaliate for unfriendly acts.”

And that’s exactly what the Kremlin did.  Earlier this week, more details about the American officials on Russia’s “Guantanamo list”—one Kremlin response to the Magnitsky Act—have surfaced.  Starting from just a handful of Guantanamo Bay U.S. military officials, this list has more than quadrupled since December to include around 60 individuals.  Here is who made the cut: the members of Congress who introduced the Magnitsky Act; U.S. parents accused of mistreating their Russian adoptive children and the judges who, according to the Kremlin, failed to punish those responsible for the abuse; and the Americans involved in the prosecution of Russian nationals Viktor Bout, a notorious global arms dealer, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted drug smuggler.

Russia’s response to the Magnitsky Act did not stop there. Putin also signed a ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans into law. Why the overreaction, Mr. Putin? Get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth: In the run-up to Russia’s presidential election last year, Putin penned an article in which he criticized the West, specifically the U.S., for concealing its attempts to meddle in Russian affairs behind the guise of a human rights campaign.  He wrote,

First, the United States and other Western states dominate and politicize the human rights agenda, using it as a means to exert pressure… Second, the objects of human rights monitoring are chosen regardless of objective criteria but [sic] at the discretion of the states that have “privatized” the human rights agenda…When we are subjected, again and again, to blanket criticisms in a persistent effort to influence our citizens, their attitudes, and our domestic affairs, it becomes clear that these attacks are not rooted in moral and democratic values.

To Putin, the Magnitsky Act is just another example of this “persistent effort” to influence Russian domestic politics. The Kremlin’s ridiculous accusations last spring that charged U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with encouraging the anti-Kremlin protests, its decision to evict USAID from Russia, new legislation requiring Russian NGOs with international financiers to register as foreign agents and, most recently, Russia’s response to the Magnitsky Act expose Putin’s belief that U.S. democracy promotion in Russia, whether imagined or not, poses a threat to his hold on power.

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