by Edward Lozansky
Washington (UPI) Jul 31, 2012
A very interesting political game in Washington is unfolding before our eyes. In the few remaining days before the August congressional recess the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House have to find a solution that would, at a stroke, please American business, sting Russia for its poor human rights record without, however, offending other nations whose record in this matter is even worse.
Whether Congress can actually perform these equilibristic manipulations remains to be seen. One thing is clear, though: The principle of selective justice that the West is often accusing Russia of is flourishing right here in the United States, which is supposed to be a shining example for other nations to follow.
Remember the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil tycoon who was jailed for tax evasion. The West raised its indignant voice in protest against this blatant violation of human rights. Since the tax evasion accusation was too obvious to dismiss, the Kremlin was accused of resorting to "selective justice" procedures. Why Khodorkovsky alone was found guilty of these crimes while other oligarchs who had done the same things went free?
Explanations to the effect that Moscow could not afford arresting all of them without ruining the whole country's economy notwithstanding, that outcry had some legitimacy.
Indeed, in a democracy -- which Russia supposedly is not --- the rule of law has to be universal; all citizens should be equal before the law regardless of status or position.
Consider, however, what is happening right now on Capitol Hill. The long-awaited Russia's graduation from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is presented to Moscow like a carrot, with the attached Magnitsky Act wielded as a stick.
The Senate version of the Magnitsky Act is supposed to punish corrupt officials and gross human rights violators worldwide by denying to them U.S. entry visas and freezing their supposedly illicit assets on U.S. territory.
However, the House version of this bill, already approved by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, wants the same actions to be applied only to Russia, assuming that all other 200-plus countries have nothing of this sort.
This is exactly what the chief lobbyist for this bill a former U.S. but now U.K. citizen William Browder wants. However, Browder is not an independent human rights campaigner. Some think he has a motive to distort the facts to cover up his own financial dealings in Russia.
To add the political intrigue another important Ways and Means Committee wants a "clean" trade bill that would graduate Russia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment Cold War relic with no Magnitsky Act attachment -- for the perfectly sensible reason that that is what American business would like to have.
Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., despite running out of time, has not introduced any bills to establish normal trade relations with Russia since he knows that the Senate will not vote for such a bill without the Magnitsky Act being attached.
The White House administration isn't happy either with the worldwide application of the Magnitsky Act. It is worried that this would complicate relations with other important nations like China or Saudi Arabia, to take just two examples.
Here, too, selective justice rears its ugly head, but we can't help it, can we now? Double-dealing is the heart of politics, certain kinds of politics, anyway.
It seems that one logical way out of this political quagmire is for Congress to separate the corn from the chaff and quickly pass a "clean" trade bill to grant Russia PNTR status. This would be a "carrot" not to Russia but to the U.S. business as everyone clearly understands.
As for the "stick," both houses of Congress could pass, instead of the new law, a joint resolution condemning "gross human rights violations" worldwide without using countries' names and demanding that the U.S. State Department and other executive branch agencies deny U.S. visas to and freeze the illicit assets of all such violators on U.S. territory.
Of course, the U.S. government has already all the necessary authority to do it anyway but if members of Congress want to score some points, let them do it.
Clearly both the U.S. economy and foreign policy interests will be best served in this case. That is, if Congress is really concerned about such "trivial" matters and not about election politics or pleasing the anti-Russia lobby, both domestic and foreign.
(Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow and professor of world politics at Moscow State University.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)
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