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Linas Jegelevicius

Linas Jegelevicius

Baltic Times

Linas Jegelevicius is a veteran Lithuanian editor and freelance journalist, and the editor-in-chief of the Baltic Times newspaper, the longest running English print news outlet…

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What Putin Really Wants From Trump

Putin

Vladimir Putin typically shuns mentioning any concrete names when speaking publicly, but he made an exception to the rule at his joint conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki Monday.

The reason?

The Magnitsky Act, which--to put it mildly--exasperates the Russian leader.

While standing alongside his American counterpart, the Russian president spoke about U.S. “reciprocation” in exchange for Russia’s greenlight to question Russian officials suspected of interfering with the 2016 U.S. election:

“For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case,” Putin reasoned before accusing the British businessman, who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act, of tax evasion and helping the Hilary Clinton campaign with $400 million in donations.

The Magnitsky Act is a 2012 U.S. law designed to sanction Russians suspected of carrying out human-rights infringements and freeze their assets. The law is believed to put in jeopardy much of Putin's personal wealth, as well as the assets of his cronies, all of whom reportedly have foreign bank accounts.

Die-hard Russia watchers would not have been surprised that Putin brought up the Magnitsky Act, nor would it have elicted any surprise from analystics in the region.  Related: The Real Winners Of The Real Estate Business

“No doubt, the Magnitsky act is detrimental to Russia, Putin and to a slew of his close-circle people. I’d say the act is tantamount to the U.S.’ Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act in 1974,” Kestutis Girnius, a Lithuanian political analyst of US descent, told SafeHaven.

That amendment, named after its major co-sponsors Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson of Washington in the Senate and Charles A. Vanik of Ohio in the House of Representatives, both Democrats, put pressure on countries with non-market economies--like the Soviet Union--that restricted emigration and committed various other human rights abuses. 

Over time, a number of countries were granted conditional normal trade relations subject to annual review, and a number of countries were liberated from the amendment. However, it has not been revoked over time.

“Russia is obviously cognizant of the far-reaching consequences of the Jackson-Vanik Act and is fearful that the Magnitsky Act--like the Jackson- Vanik act--will stay intact for years,” Girnius accentuated.

According to the analyst, both Putin and Trump got what they wanted from the Helsinki meeting.

“Trump, again, showed to all that he, unlike his predecessor Obama, can sit down and talk to anyone. Be it the Northern Korean leader or the Russian leader. Note, [he can do it] without year-long preparations. And Putin, among other things, has gotten a strong card … sort of legitimization for his actions, when speaking to European leaders,” the analyst said.

Echoing that sentiment, Washington, D.C.-based Marius Laurinavicius—a senior expert at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis--told SafeHaven that the Magnitsky act was the West’s first “grave step” against the Putin regime.

“By mentioning the name of Browder Putin is playing the PR game, showing that both Russia and the United States ostensibly share the same enemies. It is an attempt to trick Trump…It is preposterous to believe that Browder could funnel a staggering 400 million dollars into the Clinton campaign,” the analyst emphasized.

As a British citizen, Browder cannot legally donate to U.S. candidates in a personal capacity.

President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law in 2012, and other countries, including the UK, Canada, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have similar versions.

Britain amended its law in May, following the poisoning of the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, in southern England.

Approximately 150 Russian nationals are on the Magnitsky act in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009 after uncovering a $230-million tax fraud scheme.

Magnitsky's supporters blame Russia's authorities for the lawyer's death, saying that he was unjustly imprisoned and did not receive proper medical care for 358 days until his death. The Kremlin denies the allegations.

By Linas Jegelevicius for Safehaven.com

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