Obama Signs Trade, Human Rghts Bill That Angers Russia
President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill that brings U.S. trade relations with Russia into the 21st century but also ushers in a testy era in which the United States could publicly “name and shame” Russian human rights violators.
The measure, which Congress passed by an overwhelming margin, allows Obama to establish “permanent normal trade relations” – or PNTR – with Russia by lifting a Cold War-era restriction on trade.
It also directs Obama to bar Russian human rights violators from entering the United States and freeze any assets they have in U.S. banks. The provision is named in honour of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer many U.S. lawmakers believe was beaten to death in a Russian jail in 2009.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called the congressional approval of the bill “a purely political and unfriendly act.”
“I don’t get why they would sacrifice U.S.-Russia relations in order to get some political dividends at home,” Putin said.
Moscow kept up the fiery rhetoric on Friday in a Foreign Ministry statement after Obama’s signing. It called the law “short-sighted and dangerous” and an “overt interference into our internal affairs.”
The statement put most of the blame for the Magnitsky measure on U.S. lawmakers, but said it regretted Obama could not “overcome those … who see our country not as a partner but as an enemy.”
U.S.-Russia relations have already been strained over the conflict in Syria and the treatment of critics of the Kremlin since Putin returned to the presidency in May.
Russia last week banned imports of U.S. pork and beef containing ractopamine, a widely used feed additive the United Nation’s food agency in July said “had no impact on human health” if residues stay within recommended levels.
“Being a WTO member means Russia’s import standards have to be based on sound science, but their plan to block U.S. beef and pork is anything but sound,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said, referring to the World Trade Organization, which Russia joined in August.
He urged Moscow to reverse the move.
The Magnitsky law directs Obama to publish the names of Russians deemed to be human rights violators, but allows him to keep some names classified if he decides that it is in the U.S. national security interest.
Congress is due to receive the first list in 120 days and Obama must explain in advance any names he decides to keep secret.