Washington: A Russian opposition figure is urging US authorities to impose sanctions against a greater number of top Russian government officials in order to defend human rights and democracy in his country.
Speaking at a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Vladimir Kara-Murza, national coordinator at the Open Russia foundation, suggested that more senior officials should be put on the so-called Magnitsky list, a 2012 law named after the late Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
Thirty-nine Russian officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses now face travels bans and asset freezes in US jurisdictions as part of that law.
Kara-Murza said this list needs to be expanded to include more top officials, as well as government journalists involved in anti-Western and anti-opposition propaganda.
"I really think that the most effective way and frankly the most principled way, the most honourable way to deal with those human rights abusers is to place them on that sanctions list," Kara-Murza told the hearing. "This is the way it should be done."
Last year, Kara-Murza, 34, barely survived a mysterious poisoning, which he says was a murder attempt connected with his opposition activity. He now works at Open Russia, which is run by ex-tycoon and former prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who lives in London.
Kara-Murza said that in contrast to Soviet officials, Russian leaders and Kremlin-connected oligarchs have bank accounts in the West, send their children to study and buy property and yachts in the West. He said depriving them of that lifestyle would hit them hard.
"This double-standard, this hypocrisy has to stop," he said. "When high-ranking human rights abusers are placed on this sanctions list, it has a very strong effect."
Magnitsky was arrested on tax-evasion charges and died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of stealing USD 230 million in tax rebates.
Speaking at the hearing, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said the US will continue to oppose the Russian government on its actions in Ukraine and Syria, but will work with members of civil society to promote freedom of expression and pluralism.
Ties between Moscow and Washington reached a post-Cold War low when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and threw its support behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The US and other nations responded with economic sanctions against Russian officials, state-owned companies and entire sections of the economy