As Vladimir Putin settles into his third term as president, government corruption is running rampant. Putin is steadily cutting back on his people's most basic rights -- and Russians are finally saying "enough." As the opposition movement gets off the ground, international efforts to discourage Putin's government from squelching political dissent are critical. Unfortunately, however, a recent article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signals that the United States may be preparing to forsake that role.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Clinton makes the case that Congress should repeal the Jackson-Vanik law, which was passed in the 1970s to hold the Soviet Union accountable for restrictions it placed on its citizens' right to emigrate. Her argument, however, intentionally misstates the nature of Congress's position on repealing the law. Jackson-Vanik "long ago achieved this historic purpose," Clinton writes. "Now it's time to set it aside."
Suggesting that Jackson-Vanik's mission has concluded, or describing its repeal as a simple trade issue, is disingenuous spin. No one is opposed to repealing Jackson-Vanik on economic grounds. Everyone would welcome the increased trade that lifting the law could provide. Jackson-Vanick, however, is a law intended to promote respect for human rights in Russia. Congress is deeply opposed to repealing Jackson-Vanik without replacing it with effective human rights legislation that meets today's circumstances. Clinton, on the other hand, would apparently prefer that human rights issues not enter the conversation.
But the discussion of Jackson-Vanik cannot be separated from the increasingly authoritarian drift of Russia during Putin's 13 years in effective control of the country. Putin has methodically removed every force in society that could challenge his hold on power: He has taken control of the national television channels, destroyed all real opposition parties, and dominates the Duma, Russia's parliament. His party also effectively controls the judiciary and other branches of law enforcement -- it can obtain any ruling with only a phone call. It set up youth groups that draw their members from small towns within driving distance of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and indoctrinated its charges at state expense in outrageous nationalism, anti-Americanism, and pro-government dogma. When needed, it buses in crowds of duly indoctrinated youth to intimidate foreign diplomats, human rights defenders, and anti-corruption activists.
The Russian government's cynicism and corruption reached its pinnacle when former President Dmitry Medvedev asked Russians to come forward and fight corruption -- and a young Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, did just that. He testified against a group of organized criminals and high Russian government officials who had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from the Russian treasury. Instead of arresting the criminals, Russia's justice system turned on the messenger: Within a month, Magnitsky was imprisoned by the officials he testified against, tortured for a year, and finally beaten to death by eight officers with rubber batons in a Russian prison.
These facts are not in dispute: They are the findings of the Russian president's own Council on Human Rights, which the Russian government then chose to ignore. It was further discovered that all of the officers who Magnitsky accused amassed millions during the time he reported the theft was undertaken. This too was ignored.