In 2003, Kara-Murza agreed to head the Washington bureau of the RTVi television channel. He worked there for eight years, acquiring American contacts who would later help him bring to life one of his most important projects: personal sanctions against members of the Russian elite.
According to Kara-Murza, Nemtsov suggested to Cardin and McCain that the bill be extended to apply “not only to those involved in the specific case, but to all who violate human rights in Russia — that is, to turn [the bill] into a universal tool to fight impunity.”
On December 14, 2012, the Magnitsky Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama. “This was still the time of the so-called ‘reset’, when the White House wanted to be friends with the Kremlin and opposed anti-Kremlin initiatives,” Kara-Murza recalled. “The Obama administration did everything to stop the Magnitsky Act.”
During the summer of 2010, a bill was submitted to the U.S. Congress to close entry into the country and freeze the assets of sixty Russian security officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain, who, thanks to Kara-Murza, had met with Boris Nemtsov.
Kara-Murza remembered that initially he was “slightly horrified” by the scope of the task. “Throughout 2011 and most of 2012, I went to Capitol Hill as a job — nonstop meetings with members of congress, their advisors, aides, staff,” he explained. “When I needed to ‘bring out the big guns,’ I’d ask Nemtsov to come — and he always came.”
Magnitsky Act
A universal tool to fight impunity
American financier Bill Browder, whose investment fund was a client of Sergey Magnitsky, met Vladimir Kara-Murza at the Canadian parliament in 2012. They had both come to Ottawa for the same reason: to support Canada’s adoption of the Magnitsky Act.
“There were always those who were afraid of the Magnitsky Act because they didn’t want to do anything anti-Russia. In response, Kara-Murza would explain that this act isn’t anti-Russia, but pro-Russia,” Browder told Meduza. “It’s an anti-kleptocracy bill. He repeated this again and again. He liked to say that if a normal justice system ever arose in Russia, he’d be the first to seek the repeal of the Magnitsky Act.”
According to Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov and Kara-Murza emphasized that the sanctions should target “people, not the country.” “They explained that sanctions against Russia [would] backfire,” Yashin underscored. “When you impose sanctions on the country, you give [Russian authorities] an argument that helps them, the opportunity to rally the people around them.”
In this sense, Yashin said, “Nemtsov and Kara-Murza did an amazing thing.” They were able to convince American politicians to lift sanctions against the country as a whole and to instead pass the Magnitsky Act, which entailed restrictions against specific people
As Browder noted, “the Magnitsky Act was the prototype for the sanctions Western countries adopted against Russian officials in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. [It was also the prototype] for sanctions imposed during the war with Ukraine. Before the Magnitsky Act, freezing assets of individual officials wasn’t done, but today it’s a widely used practice.”
A pro-Russian bill
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