Thus do we see that this Magnitsky-adoption drama is anything but petty. Big issues are at stake, particularly for Putin and his government. But it does seem frivolous. Why, we might ask, are two major powers with much at stake in their relationship spending so much time, energy and wiles getting into each other’s knickers? And why do U.S. leaders feel such a need to hammer away at Russia’s internal structures when there are so many more important matters facing the two countries, matters that could be dealt with far more easily and effectively if these frivolous gestures didn’t get in the way?
This is not to minimize the seriousness of the trend in Russia toward increasingly authoritarian behavior on the part of its leaders, starting with Putin. Nor does it question the seriousness of official corruption in that country, also unfortunately on the rise and a blight on its society and people. Such lapses justify stern American expressions of opprobrium.
At the same time, Russia is hardly as repressive as many other nations, including U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And it certainly isn’t more corrupt than, say, Afghanistan, where the United States has been investing significant blood and treasure to protect the current government. Hence, it seems unwise as well as unseemly for America to put forth legislation so easily interpreted as an anti-Putin bill and so easily viewed as designed to bring the Russian government to its knees.
Perhaps this latest round of gotcha diplomacy can be deftly contained by Obama and Putin when the two men meet early in the new year. But this byplay is on the cusp of spinning out of control, with serious consequences for the U.S.-Russian relationship. That wouldn’t be in Russia’s interest. But, more significantly for Americans, it wouldn’t be in the U.S. interest either.
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians.