Kremlin Retaliates for Magnitsky Bill—against Russians

When top Kremlin officials promised “retaliatory measures” in response to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a US congressional initiative that proposes to sanction corrupt Russian bureaucrats and human rights violators, it was clear they were not talking about banning US senators from keeping retirement savings in Russian banks. As many expected, retaliation was directed against Vladimir Putin’s critics inside Russia. Last month, police conducted early-morning raids and searches at the homes of leading opposition figures, including Boris Nemtsov, a vocal supporter of the Magnitsky Act. A new law on public rallies hastily passed by the Duma set fines for “violations” at 300,000 rubles ($9,000; ten times Russia’s average monthly salary). Another measure introduced by Vladimir Putin’s party—and personally backed by him—would force Russian NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register and publicly tag themselves as “foreign agents.”

Not suffering from megalomania, I did not expect high-level retaliation against my own humble person. Perhaps, as my colleagues have suggested, as someone who was actively involved with the Magnitsky Act from the very beginning, I should have known better. As a (very) senior media executive told me this week, “It is one thing when you say or write something against them; it is completely different when you work against what they perceive as their own personal financial interests. You are no longer their opponent, you are now their enemy.”

Be as it may, I was extremely surprised to learn at what level it was decided to dismiss me from the (privately owned) television network where I have worked for the past eight years. Presumably, the order to blacklist my name from Russian media outlets came from similar quarters: several editors with whom I spoke, including those who previously invited to me to work with them, responded with polite refusals. (Only one vaguely mentioned “baggage” associated with my name.) Finally, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei I. Kislyak, has banned me (a Russian citizen) from entering the embassy building and grounds, and has officially revoked my Russian media credentials.

What the Kremlin has done is not new or unique: many opposition journalists (such as, for example, former NTV director and anchor Yevgeny Kiselev) have been placed under a de facto Berufsverbot. As Kiselev once noted, “to be blacklisted by today’s Russian television is … something to be proud of.” But if the goal is submission or silence, it will certainly not work—and I know that I speak for my colleagues as well as for myself.

The Magnitsky Act is anything but “anti-Russian” (unless you take “Russia” to mean a group of criminals and crooks in the current regime—which no one of sound mind does). It is, in fact, one of the most pro-Russian bills ever considered by the United States Congress. It should be passed without delay.

Postscript. I did not feel at liberty to say who in the Kremlin placed my name on the blacklist, but this person has now been named by other sources. It was Alexei Gromov, President Putin’s first deputy chief of staff. 

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