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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Cold War Still Lives on Capitol Hill

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Congress seems determined to prove George W. Bush a liar. The president has repeatedly declared the Cold War is over, yet Congress remains unwilling to repeal Cold War-era legislation, seemingly oblivious to the enormous changes that have occurred in Russia over the past decade.

The Captive Nations declaration is a case in point. Under the terms of Public Law 86-90, the president is required, every third week in July, to declare American solidarity with the Captive Nations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists, and three of those Captive Nations are now NATO members, attempts to have this law repealed continue to fail.

More serious is the continuing resistance to graduating Russia from the provisions of Jackson-Vanik. The legislation is clear: normal trading relations are to be denied to a country that lacks a market economy and prevents the free emigration of its citizens. The State Department certifies that Russia has been in full compliance with the emigration requirements of Jackson-Vanik since 1994; earlier this year, the Commerce Department designated Russia a market economy -- yet Congress remains reluctant to graduate it.

Congress seems determined to "move the goalposts" to prevent a final normalization of relations with Russia. Opponents of repealing or modifying these pieces of legislation want to attach new conditions. Now that Russia no longer restricts the migration of its citizens, members of Congress want to apply its punitive provisions to encompass other causes -- restitution of property confiscated by the Soviet state, greater protection for religious liberty, pushing for a settlement in Chechnya, or further crackdowns on racist and xenophobic elements in Russian society. All of these are indeed worthwhile causes, but unnaturally prolonging punitive Cold War sanctions is not the way to move forward.

One reason why Russia is not treated like other European states is the lingering suspicion that, despite all of the dramatic developments of the last decade, the Russian leopard has not really changed its spots.

Russia's restructuring has not been without its setbacks, and its progress has been uneven (such as in the realm of media freedom). Nevertheless, to suggest that the Kremlin of 2002 is substantially the same as in 1962 is to ignore reality. In the interests of furthering U.S.-Russian cooperation, Congress should demonstrate its faith in the durability and sustainability of Russia's transformation by repealing Captive Nations and immediately graduating it from Jackson-Vanik.

Unless the demons of the Cold War are fully exorcised, substantive progress in consolidating a new partnership will continue to be hindered.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, senior fellow for strategic studies at The Nixon Center, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.