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U.S. Lawmakers Pass 'Magnitsky list' Bill, Moldova Rebuffs Moscow Over Breakaway Territory

Plus, Baku police break up an opposition rally, and suspected militants are killed in the North Caucasus.

by S. Adam Cardais and Ioana Caloianu 19 November 2012

1. Proposed 'Magnitsky list' sanctions pass key congressional test


Over strident objections from the Kremlin, the U.S House of Representatives has passed a bill to normalize trade relations with Moscow while penalizing Russian officials suspected of human rights violations, the Los Angeles Times reports.


The legislation would repeal a 1974 law that restricted trade because of the Soviet Union's treatment of Jews. But a provision in the bill named after the whistleblowing Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky would sanction officials for human rights violations.


Sergei Magnitsky
Magnitsky was arrested on tax evasion charges in 2008, days after accusing Russian authorities of tax fraud. He died in pretrial detention in 2009 after allegedly being beaten to death.


If the bill passes the U.S. Senate and is signed into law by President Obama, the U.S. government will publish a list of the Russian officials believed to be complicit in Magnitsky's death as well as other rights violations. The officials on the so-called Magnitsky list will be denied U.S. visas. Any assets in the United States would also be frozen, the Los Angeles Times reports.


While U.S. Representative Jim McGovern hailed the new "precedent-setting human rights legislation," Moscow says Washington is meddling in its affairs. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin would retaliate with an "equally tough response."


The European Union has also proposed sanctions against Magnitsky list suspects.


2. Moldovan president rejects Russian diplomatic expansion into breakaway region


Moscow cannot open a diplomatic office in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region until Russia recalls its troop presence there and a settlement is negotiated, Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti says, according to Reuters.


Nicolae Timofti
The president rejected Moscow's proposal to open a consulate in the region, where many ethnic Russians live, after a Kremlin envoy criticized Moldova's energy policy and ties to the European Union. While Moldova is heavily indebted to Russia for cut-rate gas imports, it is cozying up to the EU as it eyes membership. Much to Moscow's chagrin, Moldova has joined a European energy pact that is unfavorable to Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom, Reuters notes.


During a 16 November trip to Moldova, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin urged Chisinau to withdraw from the EU's so-called Third Energy Package. He also reiterated Moscow's intention, stated earlier this month, to open a consulate in Transdniester, which broke with Moldova after a 1992 war and where Russia has supported a roughly 2,500-strong troop force ever since.


But Timofti immediately fired back that this was unacceptable.


shevchuk_ivanov350Yevgeny Shevchuk, the de facto president of Transdniester, met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, right, earlier this year. Kremlin photo.


"Moldova will not give its agreement to Russia to open its general consulate in Tiraspol until the Russian army has been withdrawn from Transdniester and the Transdniester problem has been resolved," he told journalists, Reuters reports.


Russia has an embassy in Chisinau, but Moldovan leaders fear that a Transdniester consulate would lead to Russia becoming the first country to recognize the territory's self-declared independence. Moscow has been turning up the pressure on Chisinau due its EU ambitions, reports that Moldova will allow a NATO presence on its soil, and other issues.


3. Azerbaijani authorities disperse opposition rally by force


Club-wielding police arrested some 30 activists who tried to organize an anti-government demonstration in Baku 17 November, Radio Free Europe reports.


After a call to action on Facebook, around 100 people gathered in the streets, shouting "Dissolve the parliament!" and "The president should resign!" RFE reports.


Police broke up the crowd with truncheons, and some demonstrators were pushed onto city buses. Several photojournalists were beaten at the scene, the news agency reports.


The youth wings of opposition parties organized the unauthorized demonstration. The year has seen regular protests over Baku's deteriorating human rights record.


4. Suspected militants killed in North Caucasus anti-terrorism operation


On 18 November, counter-terrorism forces killed three suspected Islamic militants in Kabardino-Balkaria, a republic in Russia's restive North Caucasus, RIA Novosti reports. Four police officers were injured.


The counter-terrorism operation began in the Baksan district after two suspected militants were killed in a shoot-out with police a day earlier. Assault rifles, grenades, and other munitions were seized in the raid, RIA Novosti reports.


Authorities accused the group of "numerous serious crimes," including the assassination of the deputy head of the local anti-terrorism body and the attempted murder of another Baksan official.


The North Caucasus has become increasingly unstable as Islamic militants mount an armed insurgency to create an Islamic state in the majority Muslim area. Russian security forces frequently clash with suspected Islamists in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, claiming dozens of lives a year.


5. Bulgaria FM slow to join Israelis, Americans in blaming Hezbollah for Burgas attack


The Bulgarian foreign minister, Nikolay Mladenov, says the investigation into the Burgas bus bombing has made notable advances, according to NOW Lebanon. In a phone interview on 18 November, Mladenov said that, while the investigation has made "notable progress," the identities of those responsible will not be unveiled until the security services finish their work.


On 18 July, a bomb exploded on a bus full of Israeli tourists visiting the Burgas Black Sea resort in Bulgaria, killing six and injuring dozens. Although the details and perpetrators of the attack have remained unclear, Israeli officials have singled out the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as the culprits. However, Mladenov said Bulgarian authorities don't want to "jump the gun and point the finger" despite statements already made by the Israeli and American governments.


The Jerusalem Post also writes that an EU ban against Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is dependent on whether its connection with the Burgas bombings is proved or not. 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant.
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