New York Times
March 12, 2012

Russian Opposition Urges U.S. to End Cold War Trade Sanctions

MOSCOW — Prominent organizers of antigovernment demonstrations in Moscow urged the United States Congress on Monday to end cold-war-era trade restrictions against Russia, saying that leaving them in place would only help President-elect Vladimir V. Putin.

The statement by the opposition organizations seemed intended to bolster an effort by the Obama administration and Democratic Congressional leaders to establish permanent normal trade relations before Russia’s formal entry into the World Trade Organization this year.

The administration has said that American businesses will suffer if the trade restrictions, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, are not lifted. But it is also anticipating opposition based on the argument that normalizing relations with Russia would be a mistake, given concerns over human rights and democracy under Mr. Putin’s rule, as well as Russia’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to step down because of his brutal crackdown on dissent.

The statement seemed tied to a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Russian trade issue that is scheduled for Thursday.

“Some politicians in the United States argue that the removal of Russia from Jackson-Vanik would help no one but the current Russian undemocratic political regime,” the opposition organizers wrote. “That assumption is flat wrong. Although there are obvious problems with democracy and human rights in modern Russia, the persistence on the books of the Jackson-Vanik amendment does not help to solve them.”

Signing the statement were some of the leading voices of the opposition movement: the anticorruption advocate Aleksei Navalny; leaders of the People’s Freedom Party, Boris Y. Nemtsov, Vladimir A. Ryzhkov and Sergei Aleksashenko; a former deputy energy minister, Vladimir S. Milov; and a member of Parliament from the Just Russia Party, Ilya V. Ponomaryov.

The trade restrictions were initially adopted in an effort to pressure the Communist authorities to allow the emigration of Soviet Jews, and they are now essentially irrelevant. But if the United States does not adopt normal trade relations before Russia enters the World Trade Organization, American companies doing business in Russia could face higher tariffs than foreign competitors, among other disadvantages.

The Russian government has long called for ending the Jackson-Vanik restrictions. Last month, senior Russian officials met in Moscow with the Finance Committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, to discuss the repeal effort.

However, its prospects have been complicated by new legislation aimed at pressing Russia on human rights, named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison after he was repeatedly denied care while his health deteriorated. It would deny travel visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials and others implicated in human rights violations. Supporters of the bill say they want it tied to any measure normalizing trade relations with Russia.

In their statement, the opposition organizers said that the old trade restrictions helped Mr. Putin by giving him ammunition against the United States. “Jackson-Vanik is also a very useful tool for Mr. Putin’s anti-American propaganda machine,” they wrote. “It helps him to depict the United States as hostile to Russia, using outdated cold war tools to undermine Russia’s international competitiveness.”

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