Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer with an international reputation recently stated that: “I think attention should be payed to the potential risk of Russia interfering in Estonian politics.”
Referring to the Estonian security police’s recent revelation that Tallinn’s mayor, Edgar Savisaar, has asked for Russian financial support for his Centre Party, Amsterdam said that he adhere’s to a presumption of innocence unless proven guilty in court, “but one can still blame Savisaar for unblievable naivety, considering the fact that the latter has struck agreements with Vladimir Putin’s closest friend” (Vladimir Jakunin, known to have FSB connections).
Amsterdam, of the law firm Amsterdam and Petroff with offices in Toronto, Washington and London, was banned from Russia for defending Putin opponent Mikhail Hodorkovsky, allegedly convicted on trumped up charges. He stressed that there’s just one way to interact with Russia – through action, because words don’t have any impact in Moscow. The lawyer has the reputation of taking on tough cases involving states such as Russia, Venezuela, Thailand, Nigeria and others as opponents.
He advised that Estonia should be mindful of “Magnitsky’s laws”, pay more attention to fighting corruption, and adopt a new approach to international relations, which are not just bilateral but which include Latin America, Africa and Asia. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian attorney, who had accused high oficials of corruption, died in police custody, days before the one year limit, that he could be held without trial, would expire. As a result, in late 2010 when world attention intensified on the matter, the European Parliament called for 60 officials believed to be connected to Magnitsky’s death to be banned from entering the EU and urged members to freeze assets of the respective Russian officials. The Canadian government resolved to deny visas to those involved and freeze their Canadian assets. The Russian foreign ministry called the Canadian decision to be “an attempt to pressure the investigators and interfere in the internal affairs of another state”. Bloomberg reporterd in December that accdording to an Interfax story Russia will retaliate with “similar measures”.
The West, according to Amsterdam lost an opportunity in the 90’s, by letting Russia sink so low. “I’ve always compared the failure of ‘vertical power’ structures with the ‘horizontal’. In practice, with ‘vertical power’, the president’s administration is the only one running the command structure and often it’s not even capable of doing that.” He added that compounding the tradgedy of the recent terrorists’ bombing at the Domodedovo airport is the ineptness of Russia’s government.
Amsterdam, who has had extensive experience in dealing with Russian officialdom, added that, “It’s tragic, that the FSB and people who are responsible for the security of the Russian citizenry, are incapable of protecting them but are very able to steal behind their backs.”
While engaging in dialogue and co-operation, which should not be dismissed off-hand, western governments are not pro-active enough in urging the adherence to human rights principles, especially with regard to Russia. When there is a lack of political will to respect rights, pressure changes the cost–benefit equation that leads a government to choose repression. Action, such as that adopted in the Magnitsky case, does not have to lead to confrontation and conflict. The cost to abusive governments can be raised. Resolve and consistency are the key.
Amsterdam: Be aware of Moscow’s influence in Estonia!