The Dutch have a reputation for telling things like they are. This was also true of my former law partner, Sergei Magnitsky. Nine year’s ago, Sergei discovered that a group of Russian government officials had robbed their own treasury of hundreds of millions of euros. Dmitry Medvedev was president of Russia at the time and he urged his countrymen to fight legal nihilism. Sergei heeded his call and testified against the officials, calling them criminals.
Sergei was later arrested and imprisoned without a trial for almost a year. He was put in filthy cells that were freezing cold in winter or boiling hot in summer. His captors broke his health and he was denied access to both clean water and medical care.
On his final day, when he needed immediate surgery, Sergei was handcuffed to a bed and beaten by officers and left to die while paramedics were kept waiting outside his cell until he was dead.
The Russian government has prosecuted a single individual who was involved in Sergei’s death. There is no mystery why. The money that was stolen went straight into the pockets of Russian officials. They all became rich from their crimes, and the police officers who arrested Sergei were paid millions.
The tax officials who were central to the crime received over $11 million in their Swiss bank accounts. A close friend of Vladimir Putin, a cellist, received $800,000 from the crime, and over $2 billion dollars from other Russian sources. This is the true face of the Russian regime. It’s a regime that preys on its own people and kills them when they get in the way.
The dangers of Russian corruption and nihilism are not limited to the borders of the Russian Federation. On July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from a Russian-made Buk missile launcher that was captured on film leaving and re-entering Russia. The Buk was in the hands of combat forces loyal to Putin and taking part in a covert military operation to hive off a portion of eastern Ukraine for Moscow. 298 people were murdered, 193 of them were Dutch.
On March 14 of this year, Russian hitmen were sent to the UK and poisoned ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve agent. They casually disposed of the poison in a public place which resulted in the poisoning of a police officer and two other people, one of whom died. More than a decade before, the Russian intelligence services they had sent agents to the UK to poison former Russian- intelligence-officer-turned-Putin-critic, Alexander Litvinenko, with radioactive polonium.
In both cases, as well as with MH17, the perpetrators were positively identified, but the Russian government has consistently rejected what has undeniably been proven and responded to the West with only rage and contempt.
During the 2016 US presidential elections and Brexit referendum, the Kremlin bankrolled efforts to ensure that the result was favourable to Moscow. More insidiously, it funded and continues to fund a covert campaign to destroy the fabric of Western society. It inflames societal tensions and fears in order to achieve the Russian government’s goal to break down our ability to trust and respect one another and our institutions.
This is an ongoing attack on the foundation of democratic society and our ability to speak to each other or to recognise each other’s beliefs and fears while robbing us of our ability to compromise.
For the past several years there has been a movement among governments to push back against people who attack basic human rights and who foster massive corruption and undermine their own societies and ours. That movement is named after Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky Sanctions exclude those who fail to observe the rules of Western society. They ban bad actors from being able to have access to our countries and our banks and severely punishes them while also protecting us. These measures have already been adopted by the US, UK, Canada, and the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
They have, however, been blocked from being enacted by the EU as a whole, because at least one nation in the bloc is always looking to curry favour with Putin.
That is until the Netherlands raised its voice.
The Dutch Parliament voted on two separate occasions – in 2011 and 2018 – to adopt Magnitsky Sanctions. Twice the representatives of the Dutch people were opposed by their own foreign ministers, who were afraid to give the perception that the Netherlands was acting alone, and therefore temporarily silenced their voices. I
In the most recent vote, however, the Dutch Parliament had enough. It voted that its government shall either achieve EU-wide Magnitsky sanctions or the Dutch Parliament will unilaterally put them in place for the Netherlands.
In order to protect the Netherlands from sticking its neck out too far without the support of the whole of the EU for a sanctions regime, in one final act of cowardly appeasement the Foreign Ministry removed Sergei’s name before it submits its draft for an EU-wide Magnitsky Sanctions legislation on November 20.
Names have power. Names confront people with their fears. Names remind people of their actions and of their consequences. That is the reason why Putin will never utter the name of Alexey Navalny, the one man in Russia who can defeat him. There is a reason why the street in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington DC is named Boris Nemtsov Plaza, after the opposition leader and former deputy prime minister who was murdered for exposing Russia’s covert war in Ukraine, the same war that took the lives of 193 Dutch nationals.
Magnitsky Sanctions are a testament to Sergei’s legacy. They show that his actions had meaning, that his death was not in vain. What’s equally important is that Magnitsky’s name reminds Russian leaders about what they did and what they must stop doing. Naming the sanctions after Sergei, as every other country has done, is an exercise in speaking directly and in making ourselves clear.
This begs the question, when have the Dutch failed to speak directly and who shall stop them from doing so now?