Eesti Elu
Cold war tools to be discarded to boost US-Russia trade relations
Arvamus 23 Mar 2012  Eesti Elu
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RIA Novosti, Pravda, The Moscow Times (not seen as pro-Putin) and other Russian news outlets are all supportive of the possible US Congressional repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment this spring. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment was adopted as a response to the USSRs restrictive emigration policies which hindered the exodus of mainly Jews from the Soviet Union. It has prevented the US from granting Russian Permanent Normal Trade Status (PNTR) and taking full advantage of Russia’s expected new membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment would bring the US into compliance with the WTO regulations by which WTO members cannot enforce their own trade requirements on another WTO member. Russia is set to join this spring. While the Jackson-Vanik restrictions have often been waived by the US in trading with the USSR and Russia, keeping them on the books is an obstacle to the application of WTO rules between the two countries and said to be a thorn in the side of Russia-US trade development.

The US president, the secretary of state and many prominent Congressional and industrial leaders, and obviously Kremlin officials all are demanding for the rescinding of Jackson-Vanik. (Stalwart, veteran Cold Warrior, Peter Worthington in Canada goes much further: “I have a suggestion about what to do about Russia. Nothing. Leave the damn country alone. There’s nothing we can do anyway, so treat the country with benign neglect, but don’t interfere.”)

Even outspoken opponents to Vladimir Putin’s policies have signed a letter stating that trade restrictions (like the Vanik-Jackson) inhibit Russia’s competitiveness on international markets, discourage diversification from oil and leave Russia dependent on petroleum exports. Perhaps most compelling for the pro-democracy leaders is the claim that trade sanctions prevents the emergence of an independent middle class that would demand democratic political changes in the future. The middle class was identified as the core of the anti-Putin pre-election campaign in Moscow.

What the Russian media conveniently leave out of their reportage is the fact that the same pro-democracy activists who support freer trade between Russia and the USA want the Jackson-Vanik amendment replaced with targeted actions against Russia’s worst human rights violators.

Specifically that means the US adoption of Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured by authorities two years ago. Russian democracy and human rights proponents have even visited pro-Magnitsky bill advocates in Washington promoting the passage of this legislation.

Leading members of the Russian opposition Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov have put it very succinctly: Jackson-Vanik is a relic. Its time has passed. Putin would be handed a gift if nothing replaces Jackson-Vanik. The Magnitsky Act would bring visa and asset sanctions directly against Russian government functionaries culpable of criminal and human rights abuses. The State Department’s secret list of banned Russian officials is not sufficient. The object of the Magnitsky legislation is to publicly shame and punish the rank and file of Putin’s close cohorts so they know that he can no longer protect them.

One could draw a parallel between the current Kasparov-Nemtsov approach with the pleas of the families of imprisoned prisoners of conscience in the USSR. Their families insisted that the west not refrain from exposing the brutality of the Soviet Gulag Archipelago and the blatant abuse human rights in condemning political activists to labour camps. They claimed that revealing the fate of specific political prisoners would guarantee that specific individuals would not “disappear” into the vast Gulag system. Time proved them right.
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