Russia’s ‘symmetrical’ beef with the US

Russia is fretting over several issues, including the detention of its citizens by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

To me it seems like a strange response. But it reveals an inner logic of the official Russian reaction to the Magnitsky Act (aka the Russia and Moldova Jackson Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountaibilty Act of 2012).  

Russian lawmakers have said a new retaliatory law in response to the US Magnitsky Act would be named after a two year old Russian boy who died of heat stroke in a car in Virginia.  

The child, Dmitry Yakovlev, also known as Chase Harrison, was left unattended by his adoptive father, Miles Harrison. Harrison was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in 2008.  

The Magnitsky Act was meant to normalise trade relations between Russia and the US, but appended to the legislation is the sanctioning of members of the so-called Magnitsky List, Russian officials accused of stealing $230m in a tax scam from the Russian state. 

The reaction this week to Magnitsky has been twofold. First, Russia’s food safety agency announced restrictions on imports of US pork and beef.  Now, righteous Duma deputies have launched their own attack. 

When I spoke to Vyacheslav Nikonov, first deputy head of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, he explained the new Russian bill (sponsored by Putin’s United Russia Party) would be pushed through by the year’s end:

“We’ll adopt in the first reading an act banning American citizens who violate the rights of Russian citizens from entering the Russian Federation and the possibility for the Russian government to arrest their assets. So the retaliation will be absolutely symmetrical and it cannot be otherwise. Because this is a real humiliation of Russia.”

Mr Nikonov went on:

“Of course the Russian Federation will retaliate against American parents who kill adopted Russian children. It will have to retaliate against the American judges who let those parents free, it will retaliate against those people kidnapping Russian citizens and bringing them to American prisons.”

Regarding kidnapping, Mr Nikonov was referring to Americans involved with the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and those involved in the extradition and jailing of Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen convicted in the US of arms dealing.

Worth noting too the argument of Boris Altshuler, head of the children’s rights watchdog Rights of the Child, who told the Moscow Times on Tuesday that by going after American parents the legislation would punish thousands of Russian children who could go to families in the United States. So there you have it, the Yavkovlev Act, a curious lesson in symmetry.

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