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US House of Representatives to approve Jackson-Vanik, Magnitsky bill

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A Committee on Rules of the US House of Representatives of the US Congress has recommended adopting a bill to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment and the Magnitsky Law.

The vote will take place on Friday, November 16.

The Committee considered the so-called combined bill, to repeal the restrictive trade amendments, which also included provisions of the Magnitsky Bill.

The committee meeting was a technical one, voting was required to formally place the issue on the agenda of the meeting of the full house.

The Senate will consider the document shortly after the decision of the House of Representatives.

By the decision of the Committee on Rules of the House of Representatives of the US Congress, the 13th of November is the day of voting on the bill which stipulates simultaneous abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment aimed against Russia and adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Law. Chances are that the replacement of one discriminatory document with another would become an obstacle in the dialogue between Moscow and Washington.

Two bills that are causing heated discussions in Russian and US political and business circles are combined in one document. If it is approved by the Committee on the 13th of November it will be put to the vote in the House of Representatives. The main problem of the US law-makers’ initiative is how to connect the Jakson-Vanik Amendment and the Magnitsky Law that have absolutely nothing in common, either technically or by their contents. Recall that the so-called Magnitsky Act stipulates freezing assets and banning entry to the US for Russian citizens allegedly associated with the death of the auditor of the British Hermitage Capital foundation Sergey Magnitsky in an investigative isolation ward in Moscow in 2009. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which is a vestige of the Cold War, was adopted in 1974. It stipulated restrictions for trade with the USSR due to no freedom of emigration from the Soviet Union, in US Congressmen’s opinion. Replacing one law with another is unlikely to add optimism in Moscow, expert Vilen Ivanov believes.

“The Magnitsky Law is even worse than the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The aim of the latter was trade discrimination of Russia, while the new law lets off the leash all those in the US who dislikes Russia and gives them a free hand in announcing Russian citizens personae non grata and introducing individual sanctions against them. This law would not promote better relations between our two countries and would make our partnership more problematic in general.”

It is worth remembering that the Magnitsky Law contains a paragraph which gives the US Secretary of State the right to introduce alterations to the list of sanctions, based on the country’s interests. This is an obviously superfluous measure because 18 months ago the US Department of State already made a black list of persons allegedly associated with Sergey Magnitsky’s death to prevent them from getting US visas. In addition, the US Secretary of the Treasury would have the right to freeze Russian citizens’ bank accounts. In essence, this boils down to any Russian citizens risking to become ineligible with the US authorities for one reason or another. As is known, this situation is a very effective method of political pressure. The latest developments demonstrate Washington’s current attitude to Moscow, Director of the Centre of Political Situations Sergey Mikheyev says.

“Unfortunately, the general mood in the US keeps in the vein of the Cold War. Americans believe that they should always have some ‘lever’ to be able to put pressure on Russia. I don’t think that we could radically change this situation at present, so we should make the best of what we’ve got.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly declared that Sergey Magnitsky’s death is Russia’s internal problem which is being dealt with at the highest level. As for the attempt to replace the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with a new anti-Russian law, this does not suit Moscow at all. Incidentally, not only Russian politicians but also US businessmen are among the opponents of the Magnitsky Law. President of the influential National Foreign Trade Council Bill Reinsh recently announced that the adoption of that law would seriously damage trade and political relations with Russia, including cooperation on the Iranian and Syrian problems. He estimated that within the WTO Russia could prefer other partners and also take retaliatory measures. Interestingly, some people in the Obama Administration hold the same view. However, the Republican part of the US Congress would not lend an ear to these arguments and is stubbornly insisting on its position.

November 14 2012, 15:29

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