David Cameron's forthcoming visit to the Kremlin should not just be another exercise in deferential "diplomacy"
When David Cameron arrives in Moscow this month for the first visit by a British prime minister since the Litvinenko murder five years ago, both sides will be keen to downplay the issue of human rights. In his talks with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, there will doubtless be echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s remark when she first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984: “We can do business together.”
Mr Cameron should think again. Across the Atlantic, Barack Obama’s “reset” policy towards Russia has run into trouble in Congress, which is minded to ban all Russians suspected of human rights violations from entering the United States. Over at the State Department, Hillary Clinton has already imposed a visa ban on some 60 Russian judges, police and other officials involved in the torture and death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, after he accused them of a $230 million tax fraud. The Russian lawyer’s horrific case has been the focus of an international campaign led by his former British employer, Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital Management, which is “resetting” relations with the Kremlin in ways unforeseen by the White House. There are echoes here of the Jackson-Vanik amendment of 1974, which linked Soviet-US trade to the right to emigrate. It forced the Kremlin to grant Jewish “refuseniks” the right to go to Israel and was a landmark in the fall of Communism.
Thanks to Browder’s untiring efforts, together with Magnitsky’s own heroic defiance of the authorities and his determination to leave a record of his ordeal, we know a great deal about what happened during his 358 days of captivity. In particular, we know the names of his persecutors. So rattled were the Russians by the outrage this case provoked in America and Europe that two doctors are being charged with negligence. Evidently much more senior figures are implicated in the cover-up.
On a visit to Washington last month the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, discussed the case with Obama and Clinton. It would be bizarre if Cameron did not raise it in Moscow too. Browder tells me that the Foreign Office has refused to lift a finger. Why are we not surprised? Cameron should listen instead to Sir Tony Brenton, our man in Moscow until 2008 (and Standpoint contributor), who strongly backs the campaign. The PM should give the Russians notice that he too intends to ban the guilty men from entering Britain. He should look Putin in the eye and tell him that all Russians suspected of serious crimes are persona non grata in London. That would make Vlad the Kleptocrat, said now to be arranging for his return to the Kremlin as President next March, sit up and take notice. Magnitsky was a martyr to the cause of the rule of law. The land that gave the world Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus cannot turn a blind eye to the victims of Putin’s Gulag.