Are American and Russian legislators competing to see who is the most foolish? It seems so. First the Americans passed the Magnitsky bill to punish Russia for alleged human rights abuses. Then the Russians enacted the Dima Yakovlev bill as retaliative punishment for the Americans.
President Obama has signed the American bill into law. And now president Putin has signed the bill handed to him. It is lamentable that they have joined in this foolish game. Won’t their actions only lead to further tit-for-tat responses?
Putin has called the Magnitsky bill an unacceptable humiliation. But I’ve seen him handle apparent humiliation with greater magnanimity before.
I was in the audience when in 2006 president Putin addressed the World Newspaper Congress in the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Three National Bolsheviks penetrated security and started shouting their rallying cry, “Russia without Putin.”
Another national leader might have felt humiliated by this happening in front of leading journalists from around the world. But Putin handled it with aplomb. He explained to his audience that the hall they were in had been built by the Communists to host party congresses. “It’s true,” Putin glibly remarked, that “Bolsheviks still come to this hall, but now in a different capacity.” The audience chuckled. Putin looked the statesman, the Bolsheviks the fools.
That’s the Putin who could have more constructively resolved this ridiculous situation created by the legislators.
President Obama, before signing the Magnitsky bill, had never been in favor of it. He publically stated that it is unnecessary. Indeed, it is not even an American initiative. My research has found it was sponsored by international provocateurs who apparently seek to destabilize the Russian state and delegitimize its leaders.
It is perplexing why Obama signed the Magnitsky bill. But he is faced with a legislature that has been successfully duped by Russia’s enemies into believing the issue has legitimacy. This isn’t the first time they were duped. There have been other specious anti-Russian assaults perpetrated through the media. They were chronicled in headlines such as “Russia invades Georgia,” and “Kremlin murders journalists.” Thanks to the media, much of the American public believes these stories, too.
The provocateurs make skillful use of lobbying and media spin techniques. A group of Russian and American experts have formulated a plan called “Russia without Spin” (http://www.russiawithoutspin.com) to serve as a countermeasure. But so far the Kremlin has not been receptive to it.
So Obama has signed into law a bill that is based on false premises. And now Putin has signed the Dima Yakovlev bill in response. In doing so, Putin ironically validated the villainous picture his enemies have painted of him. Unwittingly he played right into their hands.
The timing on both sides couldn’t be worse. The American bill vilifies Russia for internal problems it is already trying to fix. The Russian bill, curtailing American adoption of Russian children, comes in the aftermath of the recent mass murder of 20 children in the Newtown, located in my home state of Connecticut. That seems in extremely poor taste. The Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel has called it a “major strategic mistake.”
But what can the two presidents do now? How can they avoid further escalation? They should start a dialogue. There is not much understanding in the United States that Russia has non-state enemies who seek to destabilize the country and undermine the constitution. Perhaps Putin is too proud to talk much about that. But he is being judged harshly in the world, and his image would be aided if people knew and understood the problems he faces. Putin would benefit by explaining all that to Obama. And then he should explain to Americans directly that their government is making matters worse for everyone by its misguided attempts to influence Russia’s domestic affairs.