Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly rejected on Thursday attempts by some U.S. lawmakers to link the repeal of the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik amendment hampering Russian-U.S. trade with the adoption of new “anti-Russian laws” related to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
“Attempts to replace an anti-Soviet amendment with anti-Russian laws are categorically unacceptable for us,” Lavrov said.
The Magnitsky case is Russia’s domestic affair which is being dealt with at the highest level, he said, and “before the court makes a decision in this case, we should not interfere.” The U.S. authorities know Russia’s position on the issue “very well,” he added.
A group of influential U.S. senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, proposed in mid-March introducing a blacklist of Russian officials allegedly linked to Hermitage Capital lawyer Magnitsky’s death in a Moscow pre-trial detention center in November 2009 in exchange for the cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
The amendment, passed in 1974, barred favorable trade relations with the Soviet Union because it wouldn’t let Jewish citizens emigrate. It has been defunct for the past two decades, and both the Kremlin and the Obama administration have warned that if not repealed, it would be an obstacle to productive U.S.-Russian trade relations when Russia enters the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Magnitsky was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, just days after accusing police investigators in a $230 million tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.
On Monday, Russian prosecutors said they had closed a criminal case on negligence charges against Larisa Litvinova, a doctor at the pre-trial detention facility where Magnitsky died, citing that the charges brought against her have been decriminalized. Hermitage Capital said Litvinova’s case was closed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Another prison doctor, Dmitry Kratov, is the only official still facing charges over Magnitsky's death. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland criticized on Wednesday Russia’s investigation into the case as “inadequate.”
The U.S. senators’ initiative stipulates U.S. entry bans and asset freeze for some 60 Russian officials allegedly linked to the Magnitsky case. Last year, the U.S. State Department admitted to imposing travel bans on several Russian officials in connection with the case, a move that triggered an angry diplomatic reaction from Moscow.
The Cable foreign policy blog quoted U.S. envoy to Russia Michael McFaul as saying last month that the White House opposed linking the Jackson-Vanik amendment with any other legislation on human rights in Russia.