Skip to main content

Opinion The latest entry in post-realist Russia: Putin's surreal reaction to Canada's Magnitsky law

Funny, isn't it, that the first person blocked from travelling abroad because of Canada's new Magnitsky act is the person who lobbied for it, Bill Browder?

Not funny haha, but rich in the surreal Kafkaesque ironies that emerge from Vladimir Putin's Russia, now a post-realist power.

Moscow has managed to get Interpol to issue an alert seeking the arrest of Mr. Browder. He has been fighting for years for so-called Magnitsky laws that would sanction Russian officials for abuses, in particular those who sent his former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, to jail while he was investigating a massive tax fraud by Russian officials – and let him die there from a lack of medical care in 2009.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Putin puts critic on Interpol wanted list after Canada passes Magnitsky law

Mr. Browder has raised international hell. He succeeded in lobbying the United States to pass a so-called Magnitsky law to sanction officials complicit in Mr. Magnitsky's death. It allows the U.S. government to freeze the assets of officials, or bar them from travel, and that means Mr. Putin cannot protect them from consequences outside of Russia. Canada just passed a so-called global Magnitsky law, which has a scope that goes beyond a single case, or Russia. But it still drives Mr. Putin crazy.

In fact, Russia's response to the case has been wacky. Years into Mr. Browder's campaign for accountability for the death of his lawyer, the Russians, according to a report this week in The New York Times, are pursuing a different suspect who, they now say, dunnit: Mr. Browder. Not alone, but with the help of a British intelligence official; the pair is said to have realized that Mr. Magnitsky was ailing while in prison and conspired with connections inside a Russian prison to deny him medical care. All of it was a plan to embarrass Russia.

It's hard to imagine that Mr. Putin's Russia really believes that will be widely accepted as the truth in Western countries where there are other campaigns for Magnitsky laws. It doesn't seem to matter. It's reminiscent of the allegations of Russian online disinformation in the West: They're not just intended to promote the Kremlin's version of events, but to undermine the credibility of any version of events.

This latest wrinkle, where Mr. Browder finds himself on an Interpol watch notice, may be especially worth watching here because it might have been be triggered by a Canadian connection. Some believe it is Russia's reaction to Canada's passage of its Magnitsky law, and that there may be more responses coming.

Mr. Browder, an investment manager, made some of his profits by exposing corrupt deals in Russia, but was eventually booted from that country in 2005. His lawyer, Mr. Magnitsky, continued to investigate a huge fraud by officials, but was jailed and eventually died in prison. Mr. Browder told that story in his own book, Red Notice, named for the Interpol arrest notice Russia requested in 2013. This isn't the first time Russia has sicced Interpol on Mr. Browder. It's the fifth.

After years of Mr. Browder's campaigning, the Russians first asked Interpol to issue a red notice in 2013 seeking his arrest for the fraud Mr. Magnitsky was investigating when he was jailed years earlier. (He wrote that he suspected it might be coming when a Canadian journalist who had followed his saga told him Russian prime minister Dimitri Medvedev had made ominous statements that he should not be walking free – that journalist, Chrystia Freeland, is now Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister.)

Story continues below advertisement

In his book, Mr. Browder noted he was safe in Britain, because British authorities would not arrest him, but the red notice still disrupted his travel. The notice was soon lifted because the Russian request was deemed not to comply with standards. But the Russians kept trying. This time, they requested a less formal alert called a diffusion.

Mr. Browder told journalists his pre-approved travel clearance under the U.S. Global Entry program has been revoked. He is waiting to see if he will travel to Canada next week.

By now, the Russian response to the Magnitsky campaign has told us more than Mr. Browder ever could. In 2013, the long-dead Mr. Magnitsky was put on trial and convicted. When the United States passed its Magnitsky law, Russia responded by cutting off U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. Now, Russian investigators apparently think Mr. Browder was behind Mr. Magnitsky's death all along. There's probably more post-realist Russian reaction coming. And since Canada just passed its own Magnitsky law, it may be coming here.

The Globe's Mark MacKinnon in Moscow says that the Russian view of President Donald Trump can be summed up in two words; confusion and disappointment. Confusion over disbelief Russian security services are good enough to influence a U.S. election. And disappointment that promises Trump made on the campaign trail, such as recognizing the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, have not come to pass.
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter