At least the latest Russian response to the Magnitsky List wasn’t quite as petulant, spiteful and foolish as its previous asymmetric ‘tit for tat,’ barring US parents from adopting Russian orphans. That is, however, about the most positive thing one can say about the new “Bout List.” It targets 18 former and current officials involved in the cases of arms dealer Viktor Bout and convicted drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshchenko (and a few connected with GITMO), including US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who led the Bout prosecution.
Whether this kind of response does anything but worsen already-poor US-Russian relations (it doesn’t) and make Russia look clumsy and ugly (it does) is grist for others’ mills for the moment. I wanted very briefly to note the irony of targeting Bharara. Sure, he oversaw the Bout prosecution. But what else has he done:
- Targeted insider trading and abuses within the US financial system, such that Time, in its usual understated way had a cover blaring that “This Man is Busting Wall Street.” Moscow has long complained about double-standards in US statements about Russian financial crime and called for the Americans to clean up their own act first.
- Highlighted abuses in NY State politics, warning that “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion that political corruption in New York is indeed rampant,” as “a show-me-the-money culture in Albany is alive and well.” Frankly, give this man a slot on RT!
- Prosecuted Al-Qaeda terrorist Faisal Shahzad. Last time I checked, Moscow thought Al-Qaeda (which, rightly or wrongly, they see at work in the North Caucasus) was their enemy too.
I don’t know Bharara myself, and I’m sure he’s also driven by the usual combination of hubris, ambition and professionalism that pushes the rest of us, too. But what does seem clear is that he has done far more than most to identify many of the abuses and flaws within mighty US institutions. Of course, he has done so from the point of view of a believer in the system, looking to correct them, but nonetheless what Moscow needs, frankly, is not to ban and castigate people like him, but rather to find its own Preet Bhararas. After all, although I am hardly the greatest fan of lawyers, honest and effective prosecutors can be extraordinary forces for change and progress. Consider the Italian magistrates Falcone and Borsellino who did so much to undermine the Mafia in life and arguably even more after their deaths.
Ah. Maybe that’s the point.