Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US and Russia Take Tentative Positive Step amid Blacklist Battle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US and Russia Take Tentative Positive Step amid Blacklist Battle

Article excerpt

Amid a war of words and the publication of dueling official blacklists of "criminals" who enjoy impunity on the other side, Moscow and Washington may be finally taking steps to repair their tattered relationship.

On Monday Vladimir Putin agreed - "at the last moment," the Kremlin press service said - to meet with Barack Obama's visiting personal envoy, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and to accept a letter from Mr. Obama containing proposals on the way forward in nuclear arms reduction, negotiations on the thorny issue of missile defense, and improving bilateral trade.

After examining the contents of Obama's letter, Mr. Putin's foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov pronounced it "constructive."

"The message is written in a very constructive tone and contains a range of suggestions for further deepening of our bilateral dialogue and cooperation," Mr. Ushakov told journalists.

"Some ideas have already been talked about but there are some new elements which our country will study in the most attentive way and give a corresponding response," he said.

That's what passes for a positive signal these days, as the public hailstorm of angry rhetoric between Moscow and Washington over human rights issues intensifies.

Tit-for-tat lists?

In recent days both the US and Russia have published their own separate "lists" of rights violators from the other country who will be unilaterally subjected to a visa ban and asset freezes because of the alleged unwillingness or incapacity of the other nation's own legal system to administer justice.

Analysts say that the competing lists illustrate the depths to which the Moscow-Washington relationship has fallen since the hopeful "reset" of ties that led to breakthroughs in arms control and cooperation around Afghanistan during Obama's first term.

Regardless of whether the people now publicly identified as criminals by the US and Russian governments are actually guilty, the meting out of punishment by a foreign government is bound to be seen as a usurpation of sovereignty and a diplomatic insult on both sides, experts say.

"This is an absurd process. These lists have nothing to do with justice or common sense. They are strictly about criticizing each other," says Dmitry Suslov, an expert with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, a leading Moscow think tank.

"The US started it, with the Magnitsky List, which is not about punishing the people listed - whose guilt is yet to be proven - but all about stating the opinion of legislators concerning the state of Russia under Vladimir Putin. It has everything to do with politics, and nothing to do with justice," he adds.

The diplomatic chill has been underway for over a year, but it went into overdrive in December after Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law, named after an anti-corruption whistle blower, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison more than three years ago. Amid the storm of outrage that followed in Russia, Putin signed the Dima Yakovlev Act which, among other things, overturned a bilateral treaty regulating international adoptions and banned US citizens from adopting Russian orphans in future.

Magnitsky names

Last week the US made public the names of 18 Russians on the Magnitsky List, most of whom are law enforcement and tax officials connected with the corruption case that Mr. Magnitsky uncovered and with his subsequent arrest and death in detention.

They include Yelena Stashina, a judge who denied Magnitsky's claim that he had been deprived of medical care in prison; Olga Stepanova, a tax officer who authorized a $230 million tax rebate - fingered as fraudulent by Magnitsky - who was subsequently cleared by Russian authorities; and Artyom Kuznetsov, a Moscow interior ministry investigator who Magnitsky accused of masterminding the massive tax scam. Also on the US list is Kazbek Dukuzov, a Chechen who was acquitted by a Russian jury in 2006 of murdering US investigative journalist and Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov, and who disappeared before a scheduled retrial could take place. …

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