Russia sanctions the West — hurting its own citizens

By On April 26, 2018

Russia sanctions the West â€" hurting its own citizens

April 25 at 11:35 AM
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has worked to overturn the Magnitsky Act, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow this week. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

For all the sanctions imposed by Western governments, no one has punished the Russian people harder than Russian President Vladimir Putin. Where Western measures are directed against specific individuals and entities close to the regime, the Kremlin’s “asymmetrical response” has targeted the Russian people at large. Russian social media came up with a bitter joke: “In retaliation for new designations under the U.S. Magnitsky Act, the Russian government has decided to bomb the city of Voronezh.” As a Russian commentator observed last week, had the Kremlin decided to bomb Voronezh, the damage would have probably been smaller than what the Russian counter-measures actually caused.

When the U.S. enacted the Magnitsky Act, which banned Russian officials complicit in human rights abuses from obtaining U.S. visas and holding U.S. assets, the Kremlin promised an “adequate response.” Naturally, it could not respond in kind: Not many U.S. officials hold their retirement savings in Sberbank or own villas in Krasnodar Region, so it was clear that the response would be unequal.

But its precise nature shocked even the most cynical Kremlin-watchers. In response to the United States closing its doors to human rights abusers, the Putin regime imposed a blanket ban on U.S. citizens adopting children from Russian orphanages. This included children who had already met and were expecting to join their prospective families. “I know of only two organizations in the world that hurt their o wn children to scare their enemies: Hamas and [Putin’s] United Russia party,” wrote Russian journalist Valery Panyushkin. In a march organized by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, tens of thousands walked through the streets of Moscow in protest at the measure that became known as “the law of scoundrels.” It would perhaps be more appropriate to call it “the law of murderers.” At least two Russian children who were in the process of being adopted to the U.S. are known to have died in orphanages. The number of lives scarred by that law is beyond measurement.

The next round of “bombing Voronezh” came in 2014, when the West imposed new sanctions on the Kremlin following its annexation of Crimea. The so-called counter-sanctions announced by the Russian government banned the imports of food products from most Western countries, simultaneously reducing choice and driving up food prices for millions of Russian consumers. In a country where 22 million officially live be low the poverty line, the authorities have destroyed more than 19,000 tons of food imported from “forbidden” countries.

When, earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions against oligarchs and senior officials from Putin’s entourage, few doubted that Russian citizens would again find themselves on the receiving end of any “reciprocal steps.” Last week the Duma began consideration of a bill that proposes a plethora of measures. It includes the legalization of the theft of intellectual property of U.S. persons and entities (in other words, state-sponsored piracy); restrictions on the import of alcoholic beverages from the United States and its allies; and â€" most consequentially â€" a ban on the imports of U.S.-made medications. The latter account for some 10 percent of the Russian pharmaceutical market and are used for treatment of such conditions as diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, leukemia and other forms of cancer, HIV, Hepatitis C and depressio n, among others.

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Duma and one of the leaders of Putin’s United Russia party, advised Russians to replace foreign-made medicines with “hawthorn and oak bark.” He later suggested that his words were a “joke.” But unlike Tolstoy and his colleagues, who will no doubt continue to have access to foreign medicine (and enjoy the familiar taste of Hennessy and Jack Daniel’s) whatever laws they pass, millions of Russians are unlikely to be in a mood for joking.

When the Magnitsky Act was passed in the United States, Nemtsov called it “the most pro-Russian law in the history of any foreign parliament” because it “ends the impunity for those who violate the rights and steal the money of Russian citizens.” It is (bitterly) ironic that the anti-Russian measures have come from Russia’s own government. While the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been diverting public attention from this basic fact for years, it will be unable to do so indefinitely. After all, you can only fool all the people some of the time.

Source: Google News Russia | Netizen 24 Russia

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