The bill has infuriated Russian officials, and they speak about it often and with vehemence. “We really don’t want the U.S. Congress to adopt this bill, which has the potential to deteriorate U.S.-Russia relations for years, or even for decades, to come,” Malkin said at a news conference last Wednesday.
But the day before found him at the Open World office at the Library of Congress, posing for a friendly photo with James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, and discussing his commitment of more than $1 million to the U.S. government-run Open World program. Malkin’s money helps send prospective leaders from his constituency on exchanges to the United States to learn about good governance, rule of law and other highlights of democracy.
While Malkin and three colleagues from the upper house of parliament were in the United States, Russia’s lower house was adopting a law requiring non-governmental organizations that accept foreign money and engage in election monitoring, human rights advocacy and corruption fighting to declare themselves as foreign agents.
Russian activists say the foreign agent law, which the upper house, the Federation Council, is expected to rubber-stamp this week, was pushed along in retaliation for the Magnitsky bill.
Such are the challenges of the reset, a course President Obama set upon while taking office to transform deteriorated relations by finding areas of common interest. On those grounds, the administration declares it a success, with agreement on the New START nuclear weapons treaty, Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, cooperation on Iran and permission to supply Afghanistan through Russian territory.
Now comes the retrenchment, with Russia blocking U.S. initiatives to resolve the conflict in Syria, threatening retaliation if the West proceeds with a missile defense system in Europe and cracking down on democracy-building organizations that receive U.S. funds.
Between lobbying Congress and meeting with administration officials, Malkin was off to Chicago, where he promoted the opening of a Russian consulate and met with political, financial and cultural figures.
In Washington, his delegation was trying to convince American leaders that they were wrong about Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian who was working for an American law firm in Moscow when he uncovered a $230 million tax fraud. When Magnitsky accused Russian police and tax officials of the crime, they arrested him. After nearly a year in pretrial detention, he died in prison at 37.
Russia’s presidential human rights commission has rejected official explanations that Magnitsky died of natural causes and suggested that he may have been tortured. U.S. and European officials have asserted that Russia has covered up the facts and have been considering sanctions, with U.S. legislators naming a bill in Magnitsky’s honor. Russia’s leadership regards the bill as an insulting interference in its domestic affairs.