As the NGOs were deepening their focus on trafficking, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quietly participating in various high-level diplomatic meet­ings on trafficking, such as through the OSCE. This international attention led this ministry to be “the first government structure to know about this problem” and Russia to sign the U. N. Trafficking Protocol in the first round of signatures in December 2000.21 Nevertheless, the Russian administration did not acknowl­edge the roles of Russian law, practice, or citizens in the problem. Conceding that thousands of Russian-speaking women had appeared as prostitutes across Europe and the United States, officials repeatedly asserted that these women were from other post-Soviet states, not Russia.

Simultaneously, U. S. pressure for a more substantive response was increasing. In 1999, a State Department analyst wrote an influential report on trafficking into the United States, linking the problem to slavery and to Russian organized crime (Richard 1999). By 2000, the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights were indicting Russia for its failure to address the problem of trafficking in persons. In 2001, the United States released the first Trafficking in Persons report, which placed Russia in Tier 3, the worst tier, indicating that the U. S. evaluated Russia as not meeting the minimum standards—nor was it mov­ing in that direction.22 In 2002, Russia remained in Tier 3, and an advisor to the U. S. secretary of state said that sanctions were probable.23 These accusations and threats raised the ire of some Russian leaders. Following the 2002 Trafficking in Persons report, Russian labor minister Alexander Pochinok summarized the Rus­sian viewpoint:

To put it crudely, I would say this is libel. But more politely, these state­ments are based on unverified information. One can say to the authors of this report: Put the facts on the table. In Russia, unlike in those countries where people are kidnapped and sold in the hundreds of thousands, there have been only isolated instances and all receive the appropriate response of state organs and the media.24

Yet, the U. S. pressure had positive consequences: the Russian government for­mally requested legislative assistance from the United States to help draft a new law against human trafficking.

The resulting legislative working group introduced legislation on trafficking into the Duma in February of 2003, calling for the criminalization of traffick­ing, services for victims, public awareness campaigns, and prevention programs to alleviate the problems that encourage people to make decisions that facilitate their being trafficked.25 The bill also required a broad range of ministries to get involved and, controversially, provided for the establishment of a federal com­mission to coordinate their work. It even called for governmental cooperation with NGOs.26 Meeting the global feminist and human rights—based calls for the 3 Ps and a national referral mechanism, the proposed legislation was so good that leading intergovernmental organizations considered it a model for reform around the world (Shelley 2005).

Unsurprisingly, in Russia, where there has never been such comprehensive and socially inclusive legislation, legislators and Putin’s administration were not persuaded. Seeking at least some reform, the working group changed tactics, choosing to piggyback the trafficking amendments on the president’s proposals to amend the criminal code to reduce prison overcrowding. They reworked the legislation, calling for the criminalization of prostitution, of the dissemination of information about trafficking victims (their identity and location), and of traf­ficking and slave labor. And they waited. During the spring of 2003, the presi­dential administration did and said nothing. The United States, which had just promoted Russia to Tier 2 in 2003 with great fanfare in recognition of the forma­tion of the working group, was hamstrung.27