Staunton, April 14 – The publication of the Magnitsky List and the Russian response have prompted widespread speculation not only about the secret and supposedly much larger and possibly expandable lists attached to each but about the meaning of this exchange for the future of Russian-American relations.
In an article entitled “A Little Cold War” on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, Aleksey Polubota surveys the opinions of three Moscow commentators about these developments in the light of Kremlin statements that they will “very negatively” affect bilateral relations (svpressa.ru/politic/article/66777/).
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of “Russia in Global Affairs,” said that the Magnitsky list appears set to play a role resembling that of the Jackson-Vannik Amendment during the Cold War. But he said there won’t be “a cold war in the form that it existed during the 20th century.” The new one will be “a caricature” of that and a “quite soft one.”
The Obama administration isn’t interested in racheting this up, Lukyanov continued, and “Russia in all probability will respond in a similarly modest fashion.” Nonetheless, the existence of these two lists and the possibility that there are more people on a secret list or who may be added later creates the potential for problems down the line.
Consequently, in assessing what all this means, the Moscow commentator said, the Magnitsky list is an American action which “has symbolic importance” because “it shows that the Russian bureaucratic apparatus is a target.” Washington could always focus on one or another official, but now it has a means to talk about larger categories.
Given the internal political conflicts in Moscow now, “all this history with the Magnitsky list is more [Russia’s] internal issue” rather than a foreign policy challenge, although Lukyanov acknowledged that the US Congress “had its reasons for interfering” in this particular situation.
Pavel Svyatenkov, another Moscow commentator, told “Svobodnaya Pressa” that Washington had “two political goals” in adopting the Magnitsky list in the way that it has. “The first, is not to get into a serious argument with Russia,” and “the second, to introduce” this kind of mechanism for influencing the Russian elite now that Jackson-Vannik is no more.
While the current case recalls periods of worsening relations between the USSR and the US during the Cold War, Svyatenkov said, there is a big difference: “Russia now is much more dependent on the West than was the case in the Soviet period,” and consequently, “we observe a particular kind of cold mini-war” rather than something more.
And Fedor Krasheninnikov, a Moscow political analyst, added that Moscow’s response to the Magnitsky list highlighted “the growing inadequacy of the Russian authorities,” given that American officials aren’t going to care about being restricted from travelling to Russia while Russian officials are going to care if they can’t go to the United States.
The analyst suggested that not only was this an inadequate and even inappropriate response by Moscow but that it also points to the possibility that the Russian government will try to limit travel by ordinary Russians to the US. “Our government loves to punish its own so that others will fear” it.
In many ways, Krasheninnikov continued, the whole business resembles a Greek tragedy, one in which an individual makes a mistake which follows him his whole life and then wreaks revenge on him. “The Magnitsky case is an example of the clash of a certain business with the realities of the Russian state.”
That creates a serious problem. It is “impossible” for Moscow to punish those who were responsible,” he said, because “then it would have to incarcerate those guilty of the death [of Magnitsky] and acknowledge” its culpability. “The current Russian authorities will not take that step, Krasheninnikov says. And so the story will continue to expand as it plays out.
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