Vladimir Putin is not renowned as a man who plays by the rules nor is he a man who forgets or forgives his enemies. Given his background as a KGB officer and veteran of the Cold War, it is not particularly surprising to know such a fact. The fact that Putin uses Interpol to go after his enemies and get them arrested is a clear abuse of power. Such is the fate of Bill Browder, a U.S born, British citizen who helped pass the ‘Magnitsky Act’ in America and is one of Putin’s biggest critics.
Named after Sergi Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who died in suspicious circumstances in 2009 while imprisoned in Russia often served as a lawyer to Browder. Under the law, Russians suspected of human rights abuses can see their assets frozen and visas revoked by the U.S. government. Recently, Canada passed a similar law on Wednesday. In response, Russia exploited a loophole that lets countries unilaterally place individuals on its database used to request an arrest.
Bill Browder is now unable to travel because crossing international borders means he can be arrested and sent to Russia. He told journalists that “Putin is so rattled by the spreading Magnitsky sanctions around the world that he’s ready to run roughshod over all rules and western norms.” A prominent businessman, Browder has spent a decade trying to prove that Russian law enforcement stole £174m, which his company had paid in taxes. Since the death of Sergi Magnitsky, Browder has also campaigned to see justice done and to raise awareness of Russia’s corruption and its vendettas against dissidents and critics.
However, to add insult to injury, he found the US State Department had revoked his visa at the same time Russia issued an arrest warrant. Bill Browder tweeted his situation, sparking outrage from the former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul who called for the State Statement to fix this mistake. Browder claims that his passport was revoked at the same time that he found out that he had been added to Interpol’s wanted list.
Such an astonishing move will raise eyebrows in Europe and will further fuel speculation that Trump and his Department worked with Russia to put Browder in this situation. While it is probably nothing more than a mistake, the timing seems too coincidental. Trump has openly praised Russia and Vladimir Putin while pouring scorn on the investigation over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The news also comes soon after Tatyana Felgenhauer, deputy editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station and frequent critic of Putin, was stabbed in the throat earlier today. Russia has made it clear that it holds a grudge against those criticize Russia or Putin and is willing to bend the rules to pursue their vendetta. Putin is clearly angry at those who supported the Magnitsky Act and determined to silence dissent against him.
The question many will ask now is whether America is willing to help Russia’s vendettas? Is Trump nothing more than Putin’s puppet? This incident will certainly bring Russia back into the spotlight of Amercian politics. Once again, speculation will abound over how far Putin’s grip stretches and whether the White House is his friend or his foe. The fact that we need to ask is troubling.
One thing is clear: Putin is no friend of America or those who support freedom of speech and democratic values. Given his own actions and the response of the State Department, neither is Donald Trump.