The U.S. Senate has approved legislation that normalizes trade relations with Russia, but also imposes sanctions on Russian human rights violators.
Lawmakers voted Thursday to lift trade restrictions on Russia that date back to the Cold War era. The bill would also normalize U.S. trade with Moldova. President Barack Obama has pledged to sign the measure that cleared the House of Representatives last month.
The measure imposes sanctions on Russian officials accused of committing human rights violations.
Shortly after the vote, Senator Ben Cardin , a co-sponsor of the measure, said it would help those who had been “victimized.”
“It is clear that those who are gross violators of human rights, that they are not going to be able to travel to the United States or use our banking system. The legislation sets a precedent for international conduct that we expect will be honored globally.”
Senator John McCain , another co-sponsor, said the provision sends a message to Moscow.
“I think we are sending a signal to Vladimir Putin and the Russian kratocracy that these kinds of abuses of human rights will not be tolerated without us responding in some appropriate fashion. I believe that this legislation is not anti-Russia. I believe it's pro-Russian. It is pro [for] the people of Russia who deserve far better than what they have today.”
Immediately after the U.S. Senate voted for the bill, known as the “Magnitsky Act,” Russia's Foreign Ministry blasted the legislation and the vote as “theater of the absurd.”
The Ministry had earlier denounced the bill as “an absolutely unfriendly, provocative, unilateral move.” A Russian diplomat in Brussels called it “unjust and unfounded.”
The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian lawyer who was jailed after he denounced what he called a criminal ring of officials who stole $250 million in tax money. He died in prison in 2009.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader, says Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the wrong side of public opinion on the Magnitsky Act.
“If you take opinion polls, majority of Russian support Magnitsky Act. It's interesting because in this case, Putin is going against public opinion.”
Ryzhkov says Russians are highly aware that public officials who steal government money routinely take their loot overseas.
Influential business groups have urged lawmakers to normalize trade relations since Russia's formal entry into the World Trade Organization in August, which commits it to lowering tariffs and removing other trade barriers. Economists are predicting that U.S. exports to Russia will double in five years if the barriers are lifted.
The groups say the United States will fall behind other nations that have already formalized trade relations with Russia, and will not be able to resolve any trade disputes at the WTO with the world's ninth-largest economy.