On April 19–20, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) held its 10th annual conference in Washington DC. The key topics of discussion included the deteriorating political and human rights situation in Russia, and the prospects for EU visa sanctions against Russian human rights abusers modeled on the US Magnitsky Act. JBANC’s 10th annual conference brought together diplomats; government officials; political, business, and NGO leaders; journalists; and policy analysts from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Russia, and other countries.
This year’s keynote speaker was William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and former employer of Sergei Magnitsky, the Moscow attorney who was arrested, denied medical care, and died in prison after uncovering a $230 million tax fraud scheme involving Russian officials. Not one of the officials linked to the theft—or to Magnitsky’s unlawful prosecution and death—has been punished; indeed, some have received awards and promotions.
“I realized that it is impossible to achieve justice for Sergei inside of Russia,” Browder said in his remarks to an audience that included Magnitsky’s mother, widow, and youngest son. “So I decided to seek justice outside of Russia.” Over the past three years, the Hermitage CEO has been leading international efforts to get those implicated in the Magnitsky case—as well as other Russian human rights abusers—blacklisted from Western countries. In the United States, the visa ban and asset freeze were effected by the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a measure passed and signed into law last year. On April 12, the US government published its first public blacklist under the Magnitsky Act. Browder vowed to continue his efforts to achieve similar sanctions in the European Union, despite persistent threats to his own life and an Interpol arrest warrant issued by the Russian government.
“The regime may still be stronger than civil society, but it can no longer ignore it.”
In his remarks at the JBANC conference, Vladimir Kara-Murza, senior policy advisor at the Institute of Modern Russia, called the Magnitsky Act “the most pro-Russian law to have ever been passed in a foreign country,” emphasizing that it helps end impunity for those who continue to violate the rights of—and steal money from—Russian citizens. Reminding the audience that according to opinion polls, a strong plurality of Russians support the idea of Western visa sanctions on human rights abusers, Kara-Murza expressed his hope that similar measures will soon be adopted in the European Union.
Addressing the political and human rights situation in Russia, the IMR senior policy advisor detailed the government’s recent crackdown, which includes the designation of NGOs as “foreign agents,” the expansion of the definition of “treason,” and the politically driven arrests and show trials of opposition activists—but emphasized that the trends in Russian society are not in favor of the regime. “Millions of people in Russia are no longer willing to put up with the lies, the repression, and the corruption of Putin’s Kremlin,” he noted. Citing Vladimir Putin’s falling poll figures, the growing number of Internet users in Russia, and the unprecedented rise in civic activism, Kara-Murza observed that “Putin may still have some public support, but it is falling; the government may still control national television, but its influence is decreasing; the regime may still be stronger than civil society, but it can no longer ignore it.”
Institute of Modern Russia,
April 23, 2013