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
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.
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
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. …