Lenin’s classic declaration on the 1917 revolution—“Comrades! The socialist revolution that the Bolsheviks were talking about for so long has come true!”—can be used to describe the Magnitsky Act. Yet, the much talked-about act did not turn out to be as comprehensive as expected.
The Magnitsky Act, which bars the entry to the United States of those Russian officials thought responsible for the death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was signed into law in December 2012 (Interfax, December 14, 2012). However, many were waiting for the US government to reveal the list of individuals accompanying the act, which was expected to be a large one, containing up to several hundred Russian officials accused of violating human rights in Russia. Prior to the adoption of the law, possible candidates for inclusion on the list were extensively discussed in the media. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), who sponsored the Magnitsky Act, had a list that contained 280 names (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/04/05_a_5244973.shtml). So it was strange to see that the final list has only 18 people, with two of the persons on it apparently having had nothing to do with Sergei Magnitsky’s case (www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20130412.aspx).
Democratic activists and pro-democracy supporters in Russian society welcomed the adoption of the Magnitsky Act. For example, opposition blogger Alexei Navalny stated: “At least somewhere in the world they will punish the killers of our fellow citizen.” Overall, however, the Russian democrats were disappointed, because they had expected a higher impact law that would have included a maximum number of offenders who violate human rights in the country. The president of Freedom House, David Kramer, said that the list was very short, indeed: “It is shorter, than I would like to see it. However, I think the primary objective here should be to have an open-ended process, which would envisage including more names” (www.golos-ameriki.ru/content/magnitsky-list-reaction/1640366.html).
Two aspects of the Magnitsky Act are of particular interest. First, two ethnic Chechens were included on the list; and second, numerous members of society believe Ramzan Kadyrov’s name may have also been added to the list.
One of the Chechens on the list is Lecha Bogatyryov, who is charged with killing the former bodyguard of Ramzan Kadyrov, Umar Israilov, in Vienna. The second is Kazbek Dukuzov, suspected of killing the editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Forbes, Paul Klebnikov (https://ria.ru/politics/20130412/932406652.html). According to some sources, Bogatyryov currently lives in Chechnya and, moreover, apparently has an official position in the government at the district level (www.svoboda.org/content/popup/24956240.html). Charges were brought against Bogatyryov during the investigation of Israilov’s murder in Vienna. However, despite repeated queries, Russian officials have remained silent about Bogatyryov’s whereabouts (www.fidh.org/Process-po-delu-ob-ubijstve-Umara).
The 39-year-old businessman Kazbek Dukuzov, on the other hand, is an ethnic Chechen who holds a professional boxing title and, according to some sources, has strong connections to criminal groups. Dukuzov was among several suspects in the Klebnikov murder. In May 2006, the jury acquitted Dukuzov and he was released from custody. But in November 2006, the court’s decision was overturned and a new investigation was ordered. Prosecutors accused Dukuzov of killing the former deputy chairman of the Chechen government, Yan Sergunin, and of making an attempt on the life of a Moscow realtor, Aleksei Pichugin (https://lenta.ru/lib/14160844/).
Most of the Russian media was convinced that Ramzan Kadyrov would be placed on the Magnitsky list. Chechen government spokesman Alvi Kerimov responded to the rumors: “We are absolutely calm about hearing talk of the inclusion or of the intention to include Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov] on the ‘Magnitsky list.’” According to Kerimov, Kadyrov had had no plans to ask for a US visa (www.ntv.ru/novosti/556957). The Russian opposition endorsed including Kadyrov on the list during a gathering of the opposition’s Coordinating Council in February (https://top.rbc.ru/politics/13/04/2013/853802.shtml). Few people doubted that Kadyrov would be on the list, especially given that Washington’s action in the past very much suggested the possibility of such an outcome. For example, the US Department of State banned the participation of a horse owned by Kadyrov in a horserace in the United States in November 2011 (www.segodnya.ua/world/hocdep-csha-ne-puctil-cladkoho-utenka-kadyrova-na-ckachki.html).
After the 18 names on the Magnitsky list were made public, the media spread rumors based on an article published in the New York Times on April 13 about a secret part of the list that was not published due to the high profile figures on it. Kadyrov was said to be on the secret part of the list. Commenting on these allegations, Kadyrov stated that having learned about his inclusion on the list, he had returned his air ticket for the US (https://echo.msk.ru/news/1052632-echo.html). Kadyrov, of course, did not plan to travel to the US, as he does not even travel to European countries: he prefers the countries of the East—above all, the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia (see EDM, August 16, 2007; December 3, 2012).
Washington’s restrictions on Kadyrov’s travel are not important to him, just as the inclusion of Doku Umarov on the United Nations Security Council’s list of terrorists was not important to the rebel leader (https://ria.ru/defense_safety/20110311/345207859.html). Such measures have only symbolic meaning for officials who are protected by their own government. Russia is unlikely to punish its own citizens to satisfy anyone’s demands, because its leadership would consider it a sign of weakness. For the Russian public, pressure by Europe and the US on these figures turns them into heroes who challenge US leadership. Russia still daydreams about its lost “superpower” status, even though the Kremlin’s walls are the only reminder of its former glory.
Despite all these limitations, the US government’s decision should certainly be emulated by others—first of all, by European countries, which stopped raising human rights issues with the Russian government in order to benefit from economic ties. It would be quite helpful if the Magnitsky Act became a usable tool against anyone who violates human rights.