The Current

Western nations must send 'clear message' to Russia in wake of opposition leader's detainment, says politician

A Russian opposition politician and pro-democracy advocate is urging Canada and other Western nations to impose sanctions on Russia after an outspoken Kremlin critic was detained upon his return to Moscow over the weekend.

Calls mount for sanctions after Putin government jails Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen at the passport control point at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. Russian police detained the Kremlin critic shortly after he landed on a flight from Germany, where he'd been recovering from being poisoned with a nerve agent. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Story Transcript

A Russian opposition politician and pro-democracy advocate is urging Canada and other Western nations to impose sanctions on Russia after an outspoken Kremlin critic was detained upon his return to Moscow over the weekend.

"Canada, since 2017, has had legislation called the Magnitsky Law that does provide for those personal, targeted sanctions," Vladimir Kara-Murza told The Current's Matt Galloway.

The legislation was named after Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest tax fraud in Russian history and subsequently died in 2009 after being detained without trial and tortured in a Moscow prison. Officially called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, it allows the Canadian government to impose sanctions and travel bans on foreign officials responsible for gross human rights violations and corruption.

"But frankly, it has sat unused since 2017," said Kara-Murza. "And it's high time to put it into use and to send a clear message."

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed Monday, shortly after arriving home for the first time since being poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent. Police detained him at the airport in Moscow on Sunday as he arrived on a flight from Germany, where he had been recovering from the apparent assassination attempt.

The United Nations, along with Canada and some European countries, have demanded Russia release Navalny immediately, while others are calling for the EU to weigh sanctions.

Russia's Foreign Ministry quickly fired back that Western nations should focus on their own problems and "not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states."

In a tweet on Monday, Global Affairs Canada expressed deep concern that Navalny had again been "targeted by Russian authorities and detained."

"The Russian government must ensure his safety and answer the questions around his poisoning. The world is watching," it said. 

The Current asked the department whether Canada will consider using the Magnitsky Law to impose sanctions on Russia, but a spokesperson said officials had nothing more to add. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza says it's 'high time' Canada put its Magnitsky Law to use against Russia. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Impact of U.S. presidential election

Catherine Belton, an investigative journalist with Reuters and author of Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West, says Joe Biden's election to the U.S. presidency could help turn the tide on issues with Russia.

"Obviously the way Trump ran the White House and … his very divisive presidency was music to the ears of Putin and his KGB men, because they've long been dreaming of dividing and disrupting the post-Cold War order," Belton told Galloway. 

"And there are already signs that Biden wants to kind of end those tensions."

She said the incoming president, whose inauguration takes place Wednesday, could make a big difference by imposing sanctions on "the Moscow oligarchs who actually act as fronts for the Putin regime … and hold vast amounts of money in the West."

"That would really hit the Putin regime where it hurts," Belton said.

A man holds a placard reading 'For Navalny!' as people, including supporters of the Kremlin critic, gather near a police station outside Moscow, where the Russian opposition leader was being held on Monday. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Kara-Murza, who is based in Moscow but splits his time between Russia and the U.S., where his family lives, added that as time goes on, more people in Russia are becoming fed up with the Putin government.

He suggested it's only a matter of time before things start to change there.

"You know, there just comes a time when there's an expiration point for any dictatorship, however strong it thinks it is," he said. 

"And I think that point for Mr. Putin is fast approaching."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Alex Zabjek and Lindsay Rempel.

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