Russia threatens to wreck the reset

Ben Rhodes: "One of the core foreign policy objectives when we came into office was the Russia reset"

From Josh Rogin, the Cable:  Russia has threatened the Obama administration that it will end cooperation on Iran and prevent the transfer of material to Afghanistan if Congress passes a law criticizing Russian human rights practices.

The White House argues that the U.S.-Russian "reset" of relations has had three positive results: the New START nuclear reductions treaty, Moscow’s cooperation in sanctioning Iran, and approval (for a price) for U.S. military goods to transit Russian territory on the way to Afghanistan. But Russia is now using two of those three points as leverage to pressure the administration to get Congress not to pass a bill that would ban visas for Russian officials implicated in human rights crimes.

The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."

The administration admitted the Russian threats in its official comments on the bill, obtained by the The Cable.

"Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond asymmetrically if legislation passes," the document stated. "Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time. Russian officials have said that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on transit Afghanistan, could be jeopardized if this legislation passes."

"The Russian Duma has already proposed legislation that would institute similar travel bans and asset freezes for U.S. officials whose actions Russia deems in violations of the rights of Russian citizens arrested abroad and brought to the United States for trial," the administration said. "We have no way to judge the scope of these actions, but note that other U.S. national security interests will be affected by the passage of the S. 1039."

The Washington Post first reported the existence of the administration’s comments today and led with the news that the State Department has quietly put Russian officials connected with the Magnitsky killing on a visa blacklist.

From RIA Novosti:  The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would respond to travel restrictions imposed by the United States on a number of officials allegedly responsible for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s death in detention. . . .

"Naturally, the Russian side will not leave such unfriendly measures unanswered and will take adequate measures to protect the sovereignty of our state and the rights of Russian citizens from illegal actions by foreign states," the statement reads.   (photo: Reuters)

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