U.S. Lawmaker Says Russia Denied Him Visa
Published: March 1, 2013 (Issue # 1748)
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith
MOSCOW Ś Aásenior U.S. lawmaker says he has been denied aáRussian visa as aáresult ofáhis vocal backing ofáthe U.S. Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington toápunish Russians implicated ináhuman rights violations with aávisa ban andáasset freezes.
Chris Smith, aáRepublican congressman fromáNew Jersey who has served ináthe House ofáRepresentatives since 1981, said it was theáfirst time his visa application toáRussia had been denied over many years ofácoming toáthe country.
"This is theáfirst time [I've been denied]," Smith told Foreign Policy magazine on Wednesday. "I was shocked. During theáworst days ofáthe Soviet Union I went there repeatedly."
The visa denial is the latest sign of a cooling in U.S.-Russian relations following the U.S. Congressĺ passage in November of the Magnitsky Act, which was fiercely opposed by Russian authorities, who have called it a form of meddling in the country's domestic affairs.
Russian lawmakers responded toáthe act byápassing theáso-called Dima Yakovlev law, which includes aáreciprocal visa ban andáasset freezes foráalleged U.S. human rights violators as well as aában onáU.S. adoptions ofáRussian orphans.
Valery Garbuzov, deputy director ofáthe Institute foráU.S. andáCanadian Studies ináMoscow, said Smith's visa denial could be theáfirst volley ináan extended visa war that perhaps only theánations' top leaders can halt.
"President Obama cannot cancel theáMagnitsky Act, so relations will have toábe built onáthese premises," he said. "At theásame time, theáRussian response was excessive, which made theásituation snowball."
Smith, one ofáthe most vocal members ináthe U.S. Congress onáhuman rights issues, said U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul tried toáintervene onáhis behalf toásecure aávisa but had no success.
Theácongressman said he also met with Russian Ambassador toáWashington Sergei Kislyak, who said theádecision toáreject his visa application was made ináMoscow, not atáthe Russian Embassy ináWashington.
AáForeign Ministry official told TheáSt. Petersburg Times that theáministry never comments onáindividual visa decisions.
But Alexei Pushkov, head ofáthe State Duma's International Affairs Committee, said theásponsors ofáthe U.S. Magnitsky Act will not be allowed toátravel toáRussia, ináaccordance with theá"spirit" ofáthe Dima Yakovlev law.
"In every country, restrictions can be put ináplace forácertain categories ofápeople based onáthe spirit ofáexisting legislation," Pushkov said byáphone.
Smith was not among theáMagnitsky Act's 15 official sponsors, who included House members. Joseph Crowley, Charles Rangel andálead sponsor Dave Camp.
InáJanuary, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov announced that Russia had compiled aáso-called "Guantanamo list" ofá71 U.S. nationals who were barred fromáentering Russia due toá"human rights violations."
Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, aáformer commandant ofáthe Guantanamo Bay detention camp ináCuba, was denied aáRussian visa ináDecember, apparently representing theáfirst instance ofáRussia denying entry to a U.S. official after passage of theáMagnitsky Act.
Theálast Russian parliamentarian toábe denied aáU.S. visa inárecent memory was Duma deputy andáSoviet crooner Iosif Kobzon, whose application toávisit theáU.S. foráa farewell concert tour was rejected ináApril.
Kobzon, who has been dubbed Russia's Frank Sinatra, has been denied visas toáthe United States since 1995, when his visa was revoked byáAmerican authorities foráalleged mafia ties.
Members ofáthe countries' business andánongovernmental communities have expressed concern that theácooling inárelations could make it more difficult foráregular citizens toáobtain visas as well, although there have been no indications that such barriers will be established.
InáSeptember, aávisa facilitation agreement came intoáforce that allows Russian andáU.S. citizens toáget multiple-entry, three-year visas with reduced bureaucratic hurdles.
Ofáthe measures stipulated byáRussia's Dima Yakovlev law, also known as theáanti-Magnitsky act, theáRussian ban onáU.S. adoptions has been arguably theábiggest blow toáWashington.
Smith said he was planning aátrip toáMoscow toádiscuss Russia's reaction toáthe Magnitsky Act andáto help address Russia's concerns over theátreatment ofáadopted Russian children ináthe U.S.
"I even have aáresolution that highlights theáfact that those 19 kids died," he told Foreign Policy, referring toáthe number ofáadopted Russian children Moscow says have died ináthe U.S. since 1996. That number excludes 3-year-old Maxim Kuzmin, whose death ináTexas ináJanuary has set off aánew firestorm ofácriticism byáRussian officials.
"If somebody is responsible foráthis, they ought toápay aáprice," he said. "I was going over toátalk about adoption andáhuman trafficking. They have legitimate concerns that we have toámeet."
Repeated requests foráfurther comment fromáSmith went unanswered byápress time Thursday.
Theácongressman has been aálongtime critic ofáalleged human rights abuses ináRussia. He was aáco-author ofáthe 2002 OnáDemocracy ináRussia Act andáhas repeatedly called forásuspending Russia's membership ináthe G8, citing aálack ofámedia freedom andáhuman rights violations.
Smith said he intends toáfile another visa application.
Pushkov noted that theáObama administration is required byáthe Magnitsky Act toásubmit aálist ofáRussian officials toágo onáthe blacklist byámid-April, which could trigger another angry retort fromáMoscow.
But he called Obama aá"hostage" ofáthe law, which he said was pushed byáconservatives ináthe U.S. Congress.
Theálegislation ináfact had strong bipartisan support, but theáWhite House reportedly did want toáexpand theálaw toámake it apply toáhuman rights violators fromáother countries, inápart toáappease theáKremlin byánot singling out Russia.
"Obama genuinely wanted toárepair relations, but theáconservative part ofáthe U.S. Congress decided toátie [his] hands with that law," Pushkov said.