The Cable

Lugar’s endorsement pushes Magnitsky Act forward

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) came out strongly this week for a bill to sanction Russian human rights violators and urged his committee counterpart John Kerry (D-MA) to stop stalling action on the bill.

At the March 27 SFRC business meeting, Lugar read aloud a long statement in support of the 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, two years ago. Several senators, now including Lugar, have said publicly that unless the Magnitsky bill can become law, they will oppose the repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that currently stands as the only U.S. law specifically aimed at holding the Russian government accountable for its human rights record.

Without repeal of Jackson-Vanik, the United States can't grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status and U.S. businesses can't take full advantage of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. But the senators believe that the Magnitsky bill is needed to ensure the Russian government is not let off the hook for its deteriorating record on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

"Mr. Chairman, several committee members have urged committee consideration of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Act. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Senator [Ben] Cardin (D-MD) for his hard work on the Magnitsky Act. This bill has been pending before the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly a year, and we held a hearing on the bill last December. My office has worked with Senator Cardin's staff to develop a revised version of the bill, which I strongly support. Therefore, I would look forward to the opportunity for the committee to consider this legislation at the next business meeting," Lugar said.

The next SFRC business meeting should be in mid-April. If the committee approves the bill, which is likely, it would then be sent to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee is working on a bill to grant Russia PNTR status and repeal Jackson-Vanik. Finance committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MO) traveled to Russia last month on the issue and a finance committee staff delegation leaves for Russia March 31.

If both bills are reported out of their respective committees successfully, supporters of the Magnitsky Act would then advocate for the two bills to be joined together or voted on in rapid succession, so that they would be sent to the president's desk as a package.

The administration opposes the Magnitsky bill and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul recently called it "redundant" because the State Department has already issued visa restrictions for the officials it believes are guilty in the Magnitsky case. But leading Russian opposition figures argue that the repeal of Jackson-Vanik without some replacement human rights legislation would undermine the fight for human rights in Russia.

Behind the scenes, the administration is negotiating with Cardin, the bill's main sponsor, on changes to the Magnitsky bill that would actually expand it to cover all countries around the globe, not just Russia, two congressional aides close to the issue told The Cable.

The benefit of such a change for the administration would be that the bill could not be seen as targeting Russia only. The risk, according to aides, is that such a change could create conflicts with several other governments whose officials might falls under the bill's definition of human rights violators.

Publicly, McFaul has called for Jackson-Vanik to be replaced by a new democracy fund for Russia. He has said the administration requested to use leftover money -- about $150 million -- from an expired Russia enterprise fund to set up the new democracy initiative.

According to several congressional aides, that request is being held up by two Republican offices, Lugar's and the office of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Lugar supports the democracy fund, although not exactly as the administration envisions it. Ros-Lehtinen wants the money to be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Either way, supporters of the Magnitsky bill on Capitol Hill aren't keen on the idea and want to wait and see whether their drive to join the Magnitsky bill to the PNTR bill can succeed.

"Momentum is building for Magnitsky and people aren't really interested in setting up something new," a senior GOP Senate aide said. "We want to see where Magnitsky goes."

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The Cable

Russian government helping reporters track U.S. ambassador?

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul got a little freaked out this week by the fact that reporters in Moscow are mysteriously turning up everywhere he goes. Today, he learned that the Russian government has been alerting reporters as to his whereabouts on a constant basis.

"Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?" McFaul tweeted Thursday.

Unsure how the Russia press, which has been severely critical of McFaul, has been able to follow him so closely, he initially concluded they were spying on his personal communications.

"Welceom (sic) to my life. Press has right to film me anywhere. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?" McFaul tweeted. "I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?"

McFaul said that when he asked the "reporters" showing up at his meetings how they knew where he was, they wouldn't tell him.

Later Thursday, journalist Jace Foster tweeted back to McFaul to clue him in on how the Russian reporters always knew where to find him.

"Your schedule is fair game. We know it because Russian consulate watches you & releases your schedule," she tweeted. "Russia watches your Twitter account too, which is open to the public. Surely you know this."

McFaul seemed relieved to hear that Russian journalists are not tapping his phones. But he emphasized that the U.S. government does not tip off reporters in Washington about the travels of his Russian counterpart.

"I am new to the world of diplomacy and did not [know] this fact. Thanks. I know we do not do the same with Russian ambo in U.S.," McFaul tweeted. "Maybe I should start publishing my schedule? I am always happy to interact with press."

"Ambassador, if you feel it would help & make your life more secure, then perhaps posting when you are publicly available would help," Foster tweeted back.