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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2218

Backward from spousal protections;
Protecting the Baltics from Russian cash

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
June 1, 2018

April 24:

The Russian government's 2017 decision to decriminalize familial abuse has profoundly (and negatively) affected levels of domestic violence throughout the country.
According to The Moscow Times, human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Potyayeva has announced that the number of complaints filed in Moscow alone have spiked significantly in the year since the decriminalization law was passed. Under the terms of the law, first-time domestic abuse offenders no longer face the prospect of jail time as long as the reported incident results in only "minor harm" to the victim.

Ahead of this summer's FIFA World Cup in Moscow, Russian authorities are trying to clean up the city's image.
According to Interfax, city officials have issued an ordinance limiting alcohol sale and use during the games (which are slated to take place in mid-June), as well as in the days leading up to the matches. "The executive authorities have defined the boundaries of the territories within which prohibitions will be imposed on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages, beverages in glass containers, including in the provision of catering services, on the eve of the World Cup football match and on the day of its holding," Kirill Malyshkin, the deputy head of the Moscow region's security and anti-corruption department, has confirmed.

April 25:

Russian aggression is driving the White House's renewed campaign for increased defense spending by NATO members.
According to Reuters, U.S. officials plan raise the issue at this week's NATO ministerial in order to lay groundwork for the Alliance's upcoming annual summit in July. President Trump is also likely to discuss Alliance defense spending with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her upcoming visit to Washington. Only six of the nineteen NATO member states have currently submitted official plans to meet the target annual budgetary contribution of 2% of economic output by 2024, and Germany faces particular U.S. pressure to pull its weight. "At no point since the Cold War has NATO been more relevant than it is today," commented a senior State Department official, explaining the push.

News that Russia will likely sell advanced S-300 missile defense systems to the Syrian regime has unleashed a storm of diplomatic outrage.
Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper writes that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has vowed to destroy the new systems if they are used against Israeli forces. In the absence of a final decision on the sale by President Putin, messages out of Russia remain mixed: senior officials promise "catastrophic consequences" if Israel targets the systems, but the Russian ambassador to Israel has downplayed the risk of confrontation between Russian and Israeli forces, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's public statements remain cagey as to whether the sale will even take place.

April 26:

Future outflows of Russian capital will encounter new obstacles thanks to Latvia's crackdown on shady banking practices. A new law passed this week in Riga prohibits banks from doing business with foreign shell companies that cannot prove they are legitimate firms. reports that U.S. pressure drove momentum for the reform – for decades, wealthy Russians have laundered their money to the West shielded by the Latvian banking system's opacity. Even North Korea has reportedly used Latvian banks to evade sanctions. If successfully enforced, the law is estimated to reduce by two thirds the 17,000 shell companies currently linked to Latvian banks.

The only opposition to the law came from members of the pro-Russian Harmony party, who emphasized Latvia's valuable role as an economic "bridge" between the West and Russia, and warned against driving away foreign clients. The law's high-level champions included Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics – all of whom expressed enthusiasm for the reforms and for continued improvements in law enforcement. Meanwhile, the European Parliament and the European Commission have stepped into the ring to consider further action to combat money laundering in Latvia and other high-risk EU member states.

Could the Magnitsky Act be coming to Europe?
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that "dozens" of European lawmakers have urged the Union as a whole to adopt the "Magnitsky" model of punishing Russian businesses and businessmen linked to the Kremlin's "antidemocratic" policies that has been in force in the United States since 2012. In an open letter to top EU officials, including European Council President Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy czar, forty-four European officials called for a comprehensive European version of the U.S. legislation, which is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian custody in 2009 after uncovering evidence of massive graft and fraud perpetrated by Russian authorities.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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