Don't Be a Donald Jr. - Learn About the Magnitsky Act

Let's talk about one of the main reasons Putin's been extra cranky since 2012. 

In 2009, a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in a Moscow prison under horrendous conditions. Mr. Magnitsky had been auditing a Russian law firm and had discovered enormous fraud being committed by tax officials and police. Allegedly, he uncovered a $230 million theft. After he reported this, he was detained in 2008. Dramatic irony never lost on the Russians, the reason for his arrest was suspicion of tax evasion. 

Mr. Magnitsky reportedly died of "heart failure and toxic shock caused by untreated pancreatitis." His employer at a British firm also alleged he was subjected to torture. His death was initially looked in to but ultimately dropped by the Russian Investigative Committee in 2013. Worse still, after his death, Magnitsky was put on trial and found guilty of tax fraud. After his death, human rights activists began to compile what they called the "Magnitsky List", which included all those he had alleged were involved in the crime he was initially investigating. 

How did the US get involved? Well, actually we already were. In 1974, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was added to the Trade Act for the purpose of more intense regulation when trading with non-market economies. One of the countries targeted was the Soviet Union. The amendment required that the Soviet economy "comply with free emigration criteria as a prerequisite for receiving economic benefits in trade relations with the United States." Basically, if you wanted to trade with the US, you had to let oppressed minorities leave. After 1975, more than 500,000 refugees from the Soviet Union emigrated to the US, many of whom were Jewish. Moscow of course perceived this as the US meddling in its domestic affairs, but there was intense pressure on Nixon from the American Jewish community to support this Amendment. Ultimately, it was seen as a re-commitment to Soviet Jewry and human rights. 

So the Jackson-Vanik Amendment has been bothering Russian nationalists since the 70s. After Magnitsky's death and the human rights allegations surrounding it, President Obama and Congress passed the Magnitsky Act. The Act was intended to punish Russian officials associated with Magnitsky's death by barring their entrance to the U.S. and preventing them from using our financial institutions. The plus-side for Russia was that the Magnitsky Act replaced the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and thereby normalized trade relations with Russia. Russia, however, did not see it that way. Putin took great offense to the Magnitsky Act and responded by discontinuing adoption of Russian children to the United States. It wasn't just Putin who was mad though, as the Russian State Duma (part of their federal government) voted 400-4 to pass a responsive bill, even going so far as to name the legislation after a Russian toddler who died under the care of his adoptive American parents. 

Putin sees the Magnitsky Act as sanctions in disguise and a sleight against the Russian people. For our part, an unbiased lawyer doing his job was left to die and abused, so Congress was acting in the interest of safeguarding the American economy. However you interpret it, the point is that this is not a new issue. The Magnitsky Act is merely a more recent example of a strained relationship with Russia. To read about why this was relevant to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting, click here. The take away is that history is not meant to be forgotten, and when it comes to Russia, they have a long memory. 

Greer Clem