Politics & Policy

Time for the Magnitsky Act

A law Obama opposed is now a useful weapon against Russia.

When it comes to Ukraine, the United States and European Union are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Russian troops are hunkering down in the recently occupied Crimean peninsula, showing no signs of retreat. The West, wary of involvement — especially military involvement — in yet another international conflict, has confined its rhetoric to talk of “costs” and economic sanctions.

One weapon in the United States’ economic arsenal is the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which allows the administration to sanction individual Russians. In particular, the law was aimed at those who were responsible for the detention, abuse, and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant and auditor. Magnitsky was tortured and murdered after accusing Russian officials of corruption and theft of taxpayer funds. Under the act, the Obama administration could target individuals by freezing their assets held in the United States and denying them visas.#ad#

This individualized pressure could be coupled with sanctions against the entirety of Russia, further pressuring Russian leaders to remove troops from Crimea.

The Obama administration opposed its passage in 2012, when it was approved with bipartisan supermajorities in both houses of Congress. Now, however, the law is one of the few weapons the American government is potentially willing to use against Russia.

At the time, the Obama administration was still pursuing its ill-fated attempt at a “reset” with Russia. Fearing to derail diplomatic ventures such as discussions regarding missile defense, the administration did not want to sour relations with Russia over human-rights issues.

Despite his initial opposition, President Obama ultimately signed the Magnitsky Act, which was linked with a bill Obama wanted that removed Cold War trade restrictions between the U.S and Russia.

Passage of the bill prompted immediate backlash from Russia, which subsequently banned the U.S. adoption of Russian babies and later barred 18 American citizens from entering the country, equivalent to the 18 Russians the U.S. marked as human-rights violators on the Magnistky list.

Despite Obama’s opposition to the law, Bill Browder — chief executive of Hermitage Capital, which employed Magnitsky, and a major proponent of the Magnitsky Act — recently told the Washington Post that this situation now is the perfect time to exercise the law and target Russian leaders. “You can’t just let Russia take over another country without consequences,” Browder told the Post, saying that targeting individuals as opposed to the country at large makes them “face real personal consequences which their commanders can’t protect them from.”

“This is exactly what the Magnitsky Act was created for,” he said.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Broward’s Cowards

It is impossible to imagine circumstances under which Broward County sheriff Scott Israel could attempt to perform his duties with the confidence of the public. He should resign immediately, and if, as he promises, he refuses to go quietly, then he should be shown the door by the people he professes to ... Read More
Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN’s Shameful Town Hall

CNN recently hosted an anti-gun town hall featuring a number of grieving children and parents from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who aimed their ire at the National Rifle Association, politicians peripherally associated with the NRA, and anyone who didn’t say exactly what they wanted to hear. ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More