Russia Counters Obama Letter With Call to Rein in Congress

U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon
Three days before U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon’s visit, the Obama administration released a list of 18 Russians, drafted in Congress, who will be subject to financial sanctions and banned from entering the U.S. for playing a role in human-rights abuses, prompting Russia to retaliate by imposing its own ban. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

April 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration should put pressure on Congress to tame its hostile attitude toward Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy aide said after a message delivered by the U.S. leader’s envoy today.

U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon brought a message from Obama to his Russian counterpart that included an offer to deepen economic cooperation, Putin’s aide, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters in Moscow. The proposal encompasses issues of missile defense and nuclear arsenals, Interfax said.

“From one side we have a positive letter that has several interesting proposals, from the other -- an administration that’s taking no action regarding several figures that make our relations worse,” Ushakov said. “They are not willing to work with Russophobic Congress to align it with an atmosphere of cooperation with Russia.”

The former Cold War foes are trying to mend relations that have worsened since Putin returned to the presidency last year, with disputes ranging from democratic rights and missile defense to the conflict in Syria.

The latest irritant came three days before Donilon’s visit when the Obama administration, acting under a law passed by Congress last year, released a list of 18 Russians who are subject to financial sanctions and are banned from entering the U.S. for playing a role in human-rights abuses. That prompted Russia to retaliate by imposing its own ban on 18 former and current U.S. officials from entering the country for alleged human-rights violations.

Russian Lawyer

The U.S. law was named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested on tax-evasion charges and died in jail in 2009. He had accused police officials of stealing $230 million from the national treasury. Supporters say he was tortured and denied medical treatment while in custody.

Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the issue can be resolved by Russia conducting an investigation into Magnitsky’s death.

“That’s the clear right response to the international outcry over his death -- conduct a proper investigation and hold those responsible for his death accountable, rather than engage in tit-for-tat retaliation,” Carney said when asked about Ushakov’s remarks.

The U.S. Treasury Department released the list of sanctioned individuals April 12. The Russian Foreign Ministry countered the following day with its own list of people it says have violated the human-rights of Russians abroad. It includes people the ministry accuses of torture at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Donilon Visit

Donilon was in Moscow yesterday and today for meetings with senior Russian officials to review and plan the next steps in U.S.-Russian relations. The agenda included foreign policy, security and economic issues, said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

Carney confirmed Donilon delivered a letter to Putin without giving details. Communications between U.S. and Russian officials “encompass a range of issues, including bilateral trade issues, including Iran and North Korea and other matters, Syria,” he said.

Ushakov said Obama offered to establish a new format for cooperation and change the work of the U.S.-Russia presidential commission.

G-8 Talks

The consultations come before planned meetings between Obama and Putin during the G-8 talks in Northern Ireland in mid-June and in Russia in September around the G-20 meetings, Hayden said in an e-mail.

Obama and Putin spoke by telephone on March 1, partly to set the stage for their meetings in June and September, according to a White House statement at the time.

The two leaders discussed Iran’s ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, violence in Syria and ways to forge a political transition, international economic conditions and steps to widen trade and investment between the U.S. and Russia. The two leaders talked after Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov conferred earlier in the week in Berlin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net