G20 Tit for Tat

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

From the reports coming out of the G20 conference which has now come to a close in Los Cabos, Mexico, you would think that the main kerfluffle occurred over the EU’s plans for getting itself out of its euro/sovereign debt problem, and that meanwhile President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin had time to get together for a nice chat. Maybe. But as far as the latter was concerned, there was also something else:

“Putin threatens America,” is what we get from Gazeta Wyborcza.

So what’s that all about, and is there really anything to it? Well: yes and no. It is true that there is a new irritant in Russo-American relations, and that is the Magnitsky Bill, now before the US Senate. Its purpose is to punish Russian “human rights violators” (mainly those involved in the 2009 death in prison of anti-corruption fighter Sergei Magnitsky, but also others) by denying them visas to the US and freezing any of their US-held assets. Vladimir Putin’s “threat,” according to the Gazeta article, is simply to come up with a Russian list of Americans to punish in a similar way, should that bill be passed into law.

Reasonable, no? Well, the US prison system may not be the world’s most humane, but at least things have not gotten to the point where prisoners “inconvenient” to the ruling administration are murdered there under flimsy pretexts. So that’s where the seeming symmetry in the diplomatic retaliation breaks down. Unfortunately, Putin found a sympathetic ear with President Obama, who has shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for that “Magnitzky bill” as an interference in his administration’s policy towards Russia.

So in the end “Putin threatens America” is a bit overblown – one brave man’s death at the hands of his Russian jailers amounts to but an unwelcome irritant in Russo-American relations.

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