Russia retaliates against U.S., bans American officials

April 13, 2013

As promised, Russia responded in kind Saturday to the announcement of American sanctions against 18 Russian officials by banning an equal number of Americans.

The United States imposed visa and banking sanctions Friday against Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses, primarily in connection with the case of the late Sergei Magnitsky. Russia responded by naming a dozen-and-a-half Americans it accuses of human rights violations at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or of having had a role in the detention of Russian citizens in third countries.

That second category primarily concerns convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and then turned over to U.S. authorities.

The Russian government aimed its list at a much higher level than the American Magnitsky list, which includes midlevel tax, police, jail and court officials. On the Russian list are David Addington, who was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; John Yoo, assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003 and the author of memos backing torture of suspects; Jed Rakoff, U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York; and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, as well as lower officials and two former Guantanamo commanders.

“We should note particularly that, unlike the American list compiled arbitrarily, our list features primarily those who took part in legalizing torture and the indefinite detention of prisoners in the Guantanamo special prison camp, and those involved in the abduction and removal to other countries of Russian citizens and in threats to their lives and health,” Alexander Lukashevich, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

“This war of lists was not our decision, but we do not have the right to ignore such open blackmail,” he said. “It is time for the politicians in Washington to finally realize that it is fruitless to base a relationship with a country such as Russia in the spirit of mentorship and overt dictation.”

The Magnitsky list was compiled by the Obama administration in compliance with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, signed by Obama in December. Sixteen of the former officials on it have been implicated in a $230 million tax fraud that Magnitsky uncovered, in his subsequent arrest or in his death in pretrial detention in 2009. Two others on the list are Chechens suspected of murder.

The Russian government has been vehement in its denunciations of the U.S. law and wary that European governments might adopt similar legislation. Most of the money that was stolen in the tax fraud has been traced to accounts abroad, in transactions that require the cooperation of international banks.

“The Magnitsky Act will be a permanent serious negative factor in our relations, which should not be underestimated,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, told the Interfax news agency.

Earlier this year, after the Magnitsky Act was signed into law, Russia responded by banning American adoptions of Russian children. But the Foreign Ministry had warned that publication of the list, as required by the law, would lead to a corresponding ban on U.S. officials. It is unlikely that those Americans named in the Russian list will suffer any consequences, other than having to forgo trips to Russia.

The Obama administration has reportedly also compiled a second, secret list of additional Russian officials who face the same sanctions.

Bout was convicted in New York in 2011 of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials and to provide aid to a terrorist organization — in the form of antiaircraft missiles that were to be supplied to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel group in Colombia. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Russia has criticized the handling of his case and has sought his release.

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