U.S. Business Groups Swayed Congress, But Failed to Sway Putin

Monday, July 21, 2014
During the 2012 Congressional debate to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Russia, a coalition of business groups -- led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- lobbied lawmakers that:

"The United States may not see eye to eye with Russia on many issues - whether in the international arena or on issues related to civil society and democracy. Nevertheless, passing legislation to enact Russia PNTR - a status that Republican and Democratic presidents have approved on an annual basis since 1992 - is an important step in our encouragement of greater transparency and accountability in Russia today. Our businesses can be ambassadors for strong values and principles in Russia - if we have the chance."

Doesn't that sound familiar?

Then, they proceeded to argue:

"Our competitors in Europe, China and elsewhere are pleased to be able to step in and take advantage of meeting Russia's needs not only in infrastructure and modernization of its industrial base, but also the demands of a growing consumer class that is highly educated and appreciates quality. In what should be an exciting time of Russia's market-opening for U.S. business, our executives have been relegated to an 'observer' status - watching as our competitors will snap up contracts that will lock in commercial relationships for years to come."

These business groups use the same, exact talking points to promote ties with all tyrants, whether in Russia, Cuba, Burma or Iran.

And yet, it never turns out the way they say. Why?

Because in the psyche of tyrants -- they feel emboldened by such unilateral concessions, which they interpret as weakness and leverage on their behalf.

Needless to say, PNTR for Russia passed that year -- a vote many Members of Congress now regret.

Recently, these same business groups have also been critical of President Obama's targeted sanctions towards individual Russian enterprises and officials, pursuant to Putin's annexation of the Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.

However, after the tragic shoot-down of a Malaysian Airlines plane this week, The Hill reported: "Business groups fall silent on Russia sanctions."

At last. They should feel ashamed.