Vladimidr Kara Murza
Western “realists” who want to hear nothing about democracy or human rights when it comes to relations with Moscow often argue that any pressure on the Kremlin would be futile and counterproductive. Even those who accept that Western democracies have not only moral but legal obligation (OSCE statutes specifically designate human rights issues as “matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States”) to protest against violations, worry that public criticism may be used by Kremlin propaganda to portray the West as “anti-Russian” and to paint Russia’s political opposition as a “fifth column.”
These claims have been answered by Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was in Washington this week to attend a major foreign policy conference as well as talks with US legislators and administration officials. “Don’t touch the country, punish the scoundrels” — this was Mr. Nemtsov’s message to his interlocutors. Repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Support Russia’s WTO accession. Ratify New START. Do not give the Kremlin any pretexts to accuse the West of “Russophobia.” Instead, initiate smart and targeted sanctions directed not at Russia, but at specific officials of the unelected regime who use their power to violate laws and the Constitution, manipulate elections and deny citizens their basic rights and freedoms.
In September, Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced S.3881 — “a bill to require the Secretary of State to identify individuals responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky … and to impose a visa ban and certain financial measures with respect to such individuals.” Mr. Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who uncovered a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme by law enforcement officials, was arrested and died in prison in 2009 after being repeatedly denied medical care. The Cardin-McCain legislation imposes visa sanctions on sixty Russian officials linked to his case, including Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin and Deputy Interior Minister Alexei Anichin. Both in his remarks to policy experts and in discussions with US senators, Mr. Nemtsov proposed widening the ban to include senior officials more generally involved in repressive practices. An obvious candidate would be Vladislav Surkov — the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff and the driver of its domestic political agenda, which includes media censorship and electoral manipulations. As the curator of pro-government youth groups that had publicly promised to “punish” journalist Oleg Kashin (who was later brutally beaten) and trampled on the portraits of opposition leaders labeled “the shame of Russia,” Mr. Surkov bears responsibility for the atmosphere of hatred and political intimidation. In a pointed snub at Washington, President Dmitri Medvedev appointed him to cochair the US-Russia bilateral working group on civil society. Mr. Nemtsov has urged the US cochairman, Michael McFaul, to quit the group to show that Mr. Surkov is not considered a legitimate partner.
The task for Western policymakers today is easier than for their Cold War–era predecessors. The likes of Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov, who did not have bank accounts in Switzerland, yachts in the Caribbean, or villas on Sardinia, were immune to visa restrictions of the kind proposed by Senators Cardin and McCain and advocated by Mr. Nemtsov. Russia’s present-day rulers, in the apt description of another opposition leader, Garry Kasparov, aspire to “rule like Stalin and live like [oil billionaire Roman] Abramovich.” For many of them, a Western-imposed travel ban would be a personal disaster. Faced with such possibility, they will think twice before setting police on peaceful demonstrators or calling for the “punishment” of journalists and opposition politicians.
Newsflash update. On November 19, as he returned from the US, Mr. Nemtsov was attacked at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport by a group of people who ran from behind and placed a net on his head. The opposition leader identified his attackers as members of "Nashi" - one of the pro-Kremlin youth groups overseen by Mr. Surkov.
Getting Tough with the Kremlin