Putin critics say U.S. should open trade with Russia

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 12, 2012 2:39 PM
Putin critics say U.S. should open trade with Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Several leaders of Russia's fragmented opposition urged the United States on Monday to remove a largely symbolic Cold War trade provision, in a rare display of unity.

They included anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and other organizers of demonstrations against Vladimir Putin who recognize the need to refocus their protest movement away from the street after his election as president but have found a common policy agenda elusive.

In an open letter they criticized U.S. politicians who say the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 legal provision that still affects trade with Moscow, would benefit only Putin and his "cronies" and that its removal should be tied to an improvement in Russia's human rights record.

"We, leading figures of the Russian political opposition, strongly stand behind efforts to remove Russia from the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment," the letter said.

"Although there are obvious problems with democracy and human rights in modern Russia, the persistence on the books of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment does not help to solve them at all."

The group said that the trade restrictions imposed under the amendment limited Russia's competitiveness in international markets and trapped it in its "petro-state model of development".

"Jackson-Vanik is not helpful in any way - neither for promotion of human rights and democracy in Russia, nor for the economic interests of its people," the group said.

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment tied trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Russia has been in compliance since at least the 1990s.

The provision contradicts the global trade rules defined by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which Russia is set to join. An intense debate over Russia's trade status is expected in the U.S. Congress later this year.

The six signatories included liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as well as others who organized a wave of protests in Moscow following a disputed parliamentary election on December 4.

Putin, who won a six-year term as Russia's president in an election on March 4 which international observers say was skewed in his favor, has accused the opposition of serving the interests of Western governments.

The opposition, which includes liberals, nationalists and leftists, has struggled to united around a common agenda beyond their main demands for fair elections, general political reforms and calls for Putin to leave office.

(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)