July 23, 2017


The Magnitsky Affair and Russia's Original Sin : Sergei Magnitsky's death at the hand of the state exposed the rot at the heart of Moscow. Its ripple effects have shaped Russian foreign and domestic policy ever since. (ANNA ARUTUNYAN, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Americans may have been shocked that, by his own account, the son of a U.S. presidential candidate found himself being hectored by a group of shady Russians about an 8-year-old case he had likely never heard of. Donald Trump Jr. had come to the meeting last June, after all, baited by promises of something much better: compromising material about Hillary Clinton. Yet the fact that a Russian lawyer reportedly spent what face time she had with Donald Trump's campaign lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act should not surprise anyone who has spent the past decade observing her country. What Trump Jr. found himself unexpectedly ensnared by last year was, in a way, the original sin of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Before there was Syria, before Ukraine, before election meddling, there was the case of the murdered lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Compared with the other, more recent ugly episodes in U.S.-Russia relations, the ripple effects of the Magnitsky affair have been less discussed, at least in the West. But the story of the $230 million stolen from Russian taxpayers, the lawyer who died in prison for uncovering the scam, and the sanctions and countersanctions that ensued is a case study in the dynamics of modern Russia: how the tangled web of greed, opportunism, corruption, and fatal negligence that sits at the heart of the Russian government not only shapes policy but sometimes drives it outright. The episode derailed the country's foreign and domestic policy for years, poisoned relations between Russia and the United States, and created a moral vacuum that, in the years since, has corroded Putin's regime from within. As the latest revelations from the Trump scandal show, it continues to exert a gravitational pull on Russian politics and Moscow's relations with Washington today. [...]

Having little faith the case would be brought to justice in Russia, Browder sought justice in America, lobbying hard for Congress to punish those involved. "I've spent every day thinking what I could have done that could have saved [Magnitsky's] life," Browder told me in 2011. In December 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act barring U.S. entry and prohibiting the use of American banks for those alleged to be involved -- the number currently stands at 44 -- along with other Russians seen as violators of human rights. A victory? Not quite. Given Russia's track record at the time -- and, in particular, the high-placed protection those involved in the Magnitsky affair enjoyed -- there was a slim chance that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. But the Magnitsky Act dashed any hopes outright.

The move infuriated Putin, who earlier that year had returned for a third presidential term despite a mass protest wave questioning his legitimacy. And it was easy to see why. The ban was a direct blow to Putin's power base: The kleptocratic elite was used to enjoying Western real estate, vacations, medical service, and even its legal system -- while plundering public coffers back home.

Posted by at July 23, 2017 11:11 AM