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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1786
Opposition parties unite to survive;
Magnitsky Act stalls in committee
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
June 26, 2012
The U.S. Senator responsible for the bill to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia has promised that the legislation will be tied to the controversial Magnitsky Act. Max Baucus, the head of the Senate Finance Committee, has pledged that both bills will be passed by the end of the year, repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that was passed to punish the Soviet Union for refusing to allow its Jewish population to emigrate. Baucus and his fellow Senators, including John McCain and Roger Wicker, argued that "This is an opportunity to double our exports to Russia and create thousands of jobs across every sector of the U.S. economy, all at no cost to the U.S. whatsoever." Although the Obama administration publicly has opposed the Magnitsky Act, Foreign Policy reports that White House officials worked privately with Congress to create the current version, which will make it more difficult to add names of human rights violators, and will allow the administration to waive subsequent penalties.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s new culture minister, has stirred up tension in Moscow with suggestions to bury Vladimir Lenin’s body and rename several Moscow streets after family members of murdered Czar Nicholas II. The newly-appointed minister first proposed to Ekho Moskvy that the communist leader’s body should be buried with “full military honors,” and his mausoleum turned into a museum “with expensive tickets.” He later added that streets should be renamed after Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, a canonized martyr in the Russian Orthodox Church who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, and that a Moscow Metro station presently named after Pyotr Voikov, a participant in the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family, should also receive a name change.
Both topics have been hotly debated for decades, reports the New York Times. But Medinsky’s critics accused the cultural minister of using the hot button issues in an attempt to distract and split antigovernment protestors ahead of Russia Day rallies. “The government thinks that by raising a topic popular with the classic Russian Westernizing liberal, it can split the opposition,” said a commentator for the Kommersant-FM radio station. He added that while it “would have possibly worked,” before, “I don’t think it will today, because this will not be seen as sincere.”
Syria’s ambassador to Moscow has refuted accusations by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Russia is supplying Damascus with attack helicopters. According to the Moscow Times, the Kremlin maintains that it is fulfilling pre-existing contracts for air defense systems, and “is not sending Syria weapons that could be used in the internal conflict.” A source in the state-owned weapons producer Rosoboronexport suggested that Clinton may have been referring to military helicopters that were repaired in Russia. The United Nations estimates that government forces have so far killed over 10,000 Syrians in the crackdown.
Two of Russia’s minor political parties have merged in an effort to unite the country’s opposition movement. The People’s Freedom Party, led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, joined with the Republican Party of Russia (RPR) headed by former lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov. At its height in the 1990s, Reuters reports, the RPR held a dozen parliamentary seats, but it gradually lost standing during Vladimir Putin’s first presidential term, and was stripped of its official status from 2007 until the end of a lengthy court battle last month. “Our goal is a change in the country’s political course,” said Kasyanov, explaining the rationale behind the merger. “This can be achieved only via free elections.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency has revealed that two Russian navy ships are en route to Syria “to protect Russian citizens and a naval base there,” as violence escalates between the Assad regime and insurgents. “We must protect our citizens,” a Russian military official is reported as saying. “We won’t abandon the Russians and will evacuate them from the conflict zone, if necessary.” According to the Associated Press, each warship has a capacity to transport as many as 300 marines and a dozen tanks. The Tartus naval base remains Russia’s only such base outside of the territory of the former Soviet Union, and serves Russian navy ships in the Mediterranean, housing an unknown number of military personnel.
A last-minute request from a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member has delayed a vote on the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.” Although the bill was prompted by the 2009 death of Magnitsky, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, its asset freeze and travel ban provisions will be targeted at all Russian officials responsible for “gross human rights violations.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that passage at the committee level is expected to be the greatest obstacle for the bill, which saw its equivalent approved in the House of Representatives the week prior. The Kremlin has warned that the bill poses a threat to the "reset," prompting the Obama administration to announce its opposition to the legislation. A new date for the vote has not yet been scheduled.