Russia and Pakistan: A joint response

Russia and Pakistan had periods of trouble in their relations, but in the recent years both of our countries have been facing the same problem: arbitrary, sometimes outright illegal sanctions from Western countries, particularly from the United States.

Just this week, the US announced 12 more Russian companies, including companies from St. Petersburg and Moscow which specialize in the production of diving equipment, engines for civilian airplanes and other obviously innocent products.

Pakistan, since holding its nuclear tests in 1998, is being sanctioned continuously, and some of the anti-Pakistani sanctions date back to 1979, when the then US president Jimmy Carter first suspected Pakistan of building facilities to enrich uranium on its territory.

So, the announcement this year by president Trump that he would drastically cut US military aid to Pakistan, - this announcement did not come completely unexpected. It was just another step in the policy that had been conducted for many years.

In fact, suspension of military or economic aid fits the classical definition of economic sanctions given by economist Gary Hufbauer: sanctions are a “deliberate government-inspired withdrawal or threat of withdrawal of customary trade and financial relations.”

As for Russia, it has been under US sanctions during for most of its recent history, at least since the communist revolution of 1917. The improvement of relations with the US and the EU after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 cracked up to be a temporary phenomenon. And even under pro-Western president Yeltsin, the so called Jackson-Venick amendment of 1974, barring Russia from having a normal trade relationship with the US, was in force until 2012. The lull was short, with the Jackson-Venick amendment quickly replaced in the same year 2012 by the so called Magnitsky Act and later by “crushing” American sanctions inspired by the Ukrainian crisis and never proven Russian role in the election of president Trump in 2016.

In the 1990s, both Russia and Pakistan had little guts to resist the sanctions, and their effect on economy was indeed substantial, since both Islamabad and Moscow were dependent on IMF loans.

In Pakistan, soon after the nuclear tests in May 1998, the prices of basic goods like food and gasoline had shot up by as much as 25 percent and the Karachi Stock Exchange had lost 40 percent in a matter of months. Russia defaulted on its state debt in August 1998, after the IMF and other Western financial institutions loosened a bit the credit lifeline that made unpopular president Boris Yeltsin electable during the crucial election of 1996.

Now, both Russia and Pakistan are much more resistant to the economic shocks from outside, but the problem of sanctions still looms large.

For Russia, civilized persuasion of Washington and Brussels does not cut much ice, since political passions easily sweep away any “pro-Russian” dissent in both the US Congress and European parliaments.

Pakistan is in a better position, since the human rights’ violations in the Indian part of Kashmir and in other Muslim-populated areas are for all to see and generally they inspire much more sympathy in the West than the similar plight of the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine.

However, there is one important question that both Pakistan and Russia can ask: are these sanctions legal? The cases of “targeted and personal” sanctions, aimed against influential Russian politicians and businessmen, are especially controversial. Can someone be deprived of private property simply because a certain president or a certain parliament considers this “someone” to be in breach of human rights? And in many cases there are even no concrete accusations: people and companies are dispossessed simply because they are important for Russia’s economy or its military sphere.

Examples? The EU sanction list includes 154 Russian persons and 44 organizations. The American one is even longer, after the recent inclusion of 33 more persons it is comprised of 250 “Russian-related individuals and entities,” according to the Treasury Department of the US. Not a single trial was held, during which Russian individuals or companies could dispute the accusations levied against them.

So far, the only public explanation from the American side came from the statement by Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “Extrajudicial” approach again.

Mrs. Mandelker announced that “hundreds of millions of dollars,” which belong to Russian individuals, have been blocked in the US. Here are the ‘crimes,’ punished by this privation of property: “election interference” in the US and the EU; cyber-attacks and “aggression” in Ukraine. And, of course, there is the Skripals’ affair. Russia was accused of trying to poison its own turncoat, a former intelligence officer who worked for British intelligence, was exposed and imprisoned – and later exchanged for Russian spies arrested in the West.

Now the British authorities again accuse Russia of trying to poison this former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal – without any evidence being shown to the public, except the footage of two Russian young men roaming the streets of Salisbury – the town near London where Skripal and his daughter felt sick after contracting the deadly “nerve agent” Novichok – only to be alive and healthy after three months in a hospital without any contact with journalists. The Skripals’ affair nevertheless became the basis for the latest round of sanctions – again without any trial.

The British and American officials seem to forget, that taking someone’s property (“hundreds of millions of dollars”!) without a court ruling is a crime. Well, a court ruling is too much to ask – there are just no explanations! In her statement on the new sanctions, Sigal Mandelker does not say anything about the role, which this or that individual played in Russia’s “crimes.” Instead, she focuses on the position of that individual in the Russian government. A high position is obviously considered by the Treasury Department to be a crime in itself. Let’s quote Mandelker’s press-release:

“Since January 2017, this Administration has sanctioned 217 Russian-related individuals and entities for a broad range of activities, 200 of which were sanctioned by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)… In doing so we have targeted a veritable “who’s who” of Russia’s most prominent companies. These include… EuroSibEnergo, among the largest independent power companies in Russia; and Surgutneftegaz, a major Russian oil company. Our targets also include the heads of major state-owned banks and energy firms, as well as some of Putin’s closest associates. These figures include Putin affiliates Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg; Putin’s current or former son in law Kirill Shamalov... Dealings with such persons on our Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, moreover, create exposure to secondary sanctions under CAATSA, meaning that persons who deal with them risk being sanctioned themselves. Targeting these Russian individuals and entities have made them radioactive, as we have made clear to the world that those who choose to continue to do business with them do so at their own peril.”

But is that a sufficient reason for a company to become “radioactive” – the fact of being one of the “largest independent power companies in Russia” or just a “major Russian oil company”? What kind of crime is that – to be “the head of a state-owned company” or, worse, the president’s “current or former son in law”? How does that jive with one of the basic Western values – every person’s right not to be deprived of his or her property without a court’s ruling?

The answer is simple: the recent anti-Russian sanctions of the US and the EU in fact go against the Western values. Besides the already mentioned fact of the absence of legal basis for seizure of their property, Russians are often pronounced guilty by association. Very often it is just about enough to put a Russian person’s name next to the words “North Korea” or “Iran” to make any sanction against them justified. In the same way, Pakistan is becoming “guilty by association” as American officials slap new sanctions on China and the American press keeps talking about some “Chinese-Pakistani alliance.”

Again in the same way, the American side never provided any proof of Pakistan actually “abetting terrorists” – the most frequently heard accusations against Islamabad. But sanctions keep coming and multiplying themselves – without the defendant being actually able to say a few words in its defense. Washington always knows better.

How can Russia and Pakistan respond? Passivity is not an answer.

In fact, passivity has been our answer far too long. The hopes that anti-Russian and anti-Pakistani stories would die because of the lack of facts – these hopes have proven to be futile. So what, if there are no facts? The Western media has long ago revealed its ability to keep the story going without facts. Media can make up for them by “expert opinions” and politicians’ statements. They impress by their sheer numbers and uniform character.

Until there is impunity, lawlessness will continue. And there is an easy way to do away with impunity. The anti-Russian and anti-Pakistani sanctions and legislative acts have authors, many of them with questionable reputations. So, the answer could be – to expose these authors’ true motives.

Here is the Magnitsky Act – the only quasi-legal foundation for extra-judicial actions against Russian. Turkish and Chinese citizens outside the borders of the United States. (Pakistani citizens may soon become victims of this Act too, as the black lists are added every week, and it is legally possible in the US to keep these lists secret.)

The person at the root of the Magnitsky Act was none other than an adventurist billionaire, found guilty of embezzlement. Bill Browder, the head of an investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, was sentenced by Russian court to 9 years behind bars for tax evasion in the 1990s and 2000s. Previously an ardent admirer of the Russian president Putin, Browder fled from Russia, where he had lived since 1996, back in 2005 before the Russian justice could get him. Having found himself in security outside Russia’s borders, Mr. Brpowder suddenly reinvented himself as “a crusader against Putin,” when charges were pressed against him.

According to the 2013 court verdict, Browder operated in Russia between 1996 and 2005, using the services of his late Russian auditor Sergey Magnitsky for evading taxes and stashing away the ill-acquired assets. The court found Browder guilty of evading taxes for a hefty sum of 552 million rubles (about $ 7.9 million). The businessman was also found guilty of illegally buying shares in the country’s natural gas giant Gazprom. The court determined, that Browder’s operations cost Russia at least 3 billion rubles ($43 million).

Transferring huge sums via his offshore accounts on Cyprus, American-born Browder acquired British citizenship in order to evade US taxes on the scale many times bigger than that of the head of Trump’s presidential campaign Paul Manafort (who may now face up to 80 years in jail for this). On several occasions, American, Spanish and Cypriot law-enforcers showed interest in Mr Browder’s activity, with a brief detainment in Spain and a prohibition (later lifted) on entering the US.

In August, Cyprus’s ministry of justice announced that it would cooperate with Russia in investigating Browder.

Alas, Browder is not the only initiator of anti-Russian legislation with spots on his reputation. Robert Menendez, one of the authors of the draft law ‘Defending American security From Kremlin Aggression Act” (DASKAA, still to be voted on in autumn 2018), is investigated in the US for corruption, i.e. trading political influence for gifts from a Florida businessman.

That same Menendez was instrumental in initiating sanctions against Iran and other Muslim countries. His campaign for “punishing all of America’s enemies abroad” does not know such impediments as presumption of innocence. In that sense, Menendez and Browder are not very different from the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who accused Pakistan of “harboring terrorists” without a shred of evidence.

If even the EU-related and US-controlled media reports the many sins of “Russia-bashers” and ‘Pakistan-bashers”, why should we keep a blind eye on these sins? Sometimes, a not very deep dive into recent history is enough. Ii is interesting to note who was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now a famous Kremlin critic, for the Western press all the way before his quarrel with president Putin in 2003? In 2002, the influential German magazine Der Spiegel described Khodorkovsky as a shady oligarch with “memory holes” for his crimes. Now Khodorkovsky is another anti-Putin crusader who has no problems with Western media. And Western justice, of course.


The writer is a political analyst at Rossiya Sevodnya news agency.

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