Russia’s answer to the United States’ “Magnitsky Act,” banning the adoption of Russian children by US citizens, provoked a storm among intellectuals, dismay among many rank-and-file supporters of Vladimir Putin and – for the first time – real discord among government figures.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was one of the most respected senior political figures to surprise observers by coming out against the law. Minister for Education and Science, Dmitry Livanov, also condemned it, arguing that this law will hurt the very children it purports to protect. Dissonant voices also came from the Presidential Council on Human Rights and the Justice ministry.
On Friday I visited a mid-level official in one of the ministries concerned with the new law. She bombarded me with questions about the reasons for this harsh decision. For the first time I heard from this loyalist that she opposed her own government’s decision. Theoretically, this could be an isolated case, but there is every reason to believe that it is not.
The idea of orphaned or sick children being used as pawns in a political game seems to be finding much less resonance within the bureaucracy than one might have expected.
First, there is the issue of morality, second, that of practicality.
One foreign ministry official told me that many Russian diplomats felt offended. The Russian-US agreement on child adoption issues took nearly two years to finalize and quite some time to ratify. It finally came into force in November, a few weeks before it was unilaterally abrogated by what is now known as the “anti-Magnitsky law” in Russia.
There are questions as to whether this abrogation breaks several laws and international conventions. But far worse, the diplomat said is that: “What happened makes Russia looks like an unreliable partner who cannot be trusted.”
Third, the Kremlin’s response to the “Magnitsky Act” could badly misfire internationally. Moscow’s apparent campaign of victimization, that first targeted NGOs and now children, puts the Obama administration in an awkward position, especially since it has shown marked indifference to Russian domestic developments.
Unless Vladimir Putin starts building new Gulags, or threatening military confrontation, the White House had repeatedly demonstrated that it could not care less about Russia’s harassed NGOs, beaten demonstrators and censored journalists.
Obama clearly hoped to leave the Magnitsky issue behind and trusted Russia to produce a less spectacular and scandalous response. The White House wants Vladimir Putin to agree to a new round of nuclear disarmament negotiations and begin work on the START-4 treaty.
Instead, the US administration will have to react to Moscow’s steps. Moreover, the European Union may also have to start debating the possibility of adopting its own version of the “Magnitsky Law,” something that would create problems of an altogether more serious order for the Kremlin.
The probability of EU-wide Magnitsky-style legislation coming into force remains low. But the negative publicity surrounding what has also been termed here in Moscow as “the scoundrels’ bill” will definitely give a shot in the arm to those in the EU who advocate a tougher stance towards the Kremlin.
It looks like the “anti-Magnitsky law” proves quite a different law: that of unintended consequences. Instead of consolidating Russia’s ruling class – the bill divided it, instead of keeping the Americans and Europeans out it keeps them in – and more angry.
Finally, the law forces even the Kremlin loyalists to make hard moral choices – something people usually do not forget, and frequently do not forgive.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.