The U.S. Congress repealed the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, a trade sanction imposed on the Soviet Union to force it into allowing the Jews and other minorities to emigrate.
It replaced it with a new bill that penalizes Russia for corruption and its current human rights violations. On December 6, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 92-4, while the House of Representatives had voted in favor 365-43 on November 16.
The new law ensures permanent normal trade relations for both Russia and Moldova, but is coupled with the Sergey Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Account, honoring the Russian whistleblower lawyer, who unveiled a $230m fraud and who died under mysterious circumstances in a Moscow jail in 2009. The bill establishes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in his death and in other perceived gross human rights violations.
The U.S. is expected to release a list of Russian officials thought to have been involved in human rights violations. The Obama administration has won the argument to limit the list, which now presumably contains over 60 names, to the individuals directly involved in Magnitsky’s detention and death or in other gross violations of human rights. This decision displeased some Russian opposition leaders, who had argued that the list include all Russian officials who are considered to be human rights violators.
It also displeased U.S. senators who opposed the bill, such as Democrat Carl Levin, who emphasized that he did not believe that the sanctions should exclusively apply to Russian human rights violators and single out Russia, but that they should be enforceable for all human rights violators.In fact, the original version of the bill did make the sanctions universally applicable.
In response to the bill’s passing, the Russian political leadership expressed a fiery disapproval. After Medvedev announced that the Magnitsky provisions’ approval would provoke a symmetrical and asymmetrical reaction, the head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has stated that Russia has already drafted list of U.S. citizens who will be denied entry visas into Russia for their alleged human rights violations. Medvedev added that it is inadmissible for one country to impose its will on another.
Altogether, the passing of the bill opens a new era for U.S.-Russian trade relations. Russia has joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August and now must open its market and reduce trade tariffs. While the 1974 amendment was still in place, the U.S. was the onlyWTO member who could not take advantage of Russia’s market changes.
At the same time, an Economist article suggests that the visa ban and account freeze ultimately play into President Putin’s efforts to bring Russia official’s property and cash back to Russia through a proposed bill during the summer, which would have prevented state officials from possessing assets abroad. While that bill was not adopted, Putin can now use Magnitsky-type laws as an argument to convince Russian officials to renationalize their assets.
U.S. President Barack Obama is widely expected to sign the new bill into law.