November 26, 2014

Blunt, McCaskill vote for trade bill with Russia, which gets icy response because of human rights measure

Senators Blunt and McCaskill support a bill that opens up trade relations with Russia, but now Russian leaders have strengthened restrictions on meat imports from the U.S. Blunt tells his colleagues in Washington that the Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations legislation would grow jobs and increase import opportunities. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly supported the measure in a bi-partisan vote Friday.

The bill heightens accountability measures by making sure Russia meets its commitments to the World Trade Organization, and contains a human rights measure that tries to keep government corruption out of the process.

That measure, Blunt says, also sends a message to other countries that the U.S. will not support agreements with countries that deal human injustices to those who speak out against their government.

The provision in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower who was jailed, beaten and denied medical care until he died. The legislation would bar visas for Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in custody of Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who accused federal investigators of stealing $230 million from the state.

Almost immediately after passage of the bill, Moscow announced restrictions on meat imports from the U.S. A Putin adviser has been quoted as saying passage of the human rights language was “An extremely unfriendly move against Russia.”

Russian leaders have banned meat from the U-S containing Ractopamine, a growth additive commonly used in America, but not in China and Europe.

In what’s believed to be a direct response to what’s being called the Magnitsky Act, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the parliament should now respond.

Alexei Pushkov, a senior parliamentary deputy from President Vladimir Putin’s party, says the chamber would discuss retaliatory measures this week.

“The Americans have reminded us about the way Russia is viewed on Capitol Hill,” Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Putin, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. “Stereotypes about our country persist and no one can get rid of them. So the Americans have made an extremely unfriendly move against us.”

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Magnitsky legislation, which political advisers have said will test the ongoing efforts between Obama and Putin to improve foreign relations between Russia and the United States.