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Russia Warns U.S. Over Magnitsky Bill

  • RFE/RL

Magnitsky died in 2009 after spending 11 months in pretrial detention after implicating top Russian officials in a corruption scheme.

Magnitsky died in 2009 after spending 11 months in pretrial detention after implicating top Russian officials in a corruption scheme.

Russia has warned the United States that Moscow will retaliate if U.S. lawmakers pass a law blacklisting Russian officials connected to the death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the Russian government not only regretted but was "astonished" by the June 26 approval by a key U.S. Senate panel of a bill that would deny visas and freeze assets of Russian officials who have been linked to Magnitsky's death.

Ryabkov warned that if U.S. lawmakers passed the bill and it became law, Moscow would respond with even harsher measures targeting the United States.

Magnitsky died in 2009 after spending 11 months in pretrial detention. He was arrested after implicating top Russian officials in a corruption scheme.

Magnitsky was denied medical care and beaten during his incarceration. Just one low-level prison doctor has been charged in Russia in connection with the case, while some senior officials connected to the case have been promoted.

His death has come to be seen as a symbol of Russia's rights failings, particularly by members of the U.S. Congress.

Legislative Action

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously endorsed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act on June 26.

The law would require that the United States deny visas and freeze assets of human rights offenders worldwide. But it specifically targets Russian officials linked to Magnitsky's death.

Earlier this month, a House of Representatives committee passed a similar piece of Magnitsky-related legislation. The measure has yet to come to a vote in the full House.

President Barack Obama's administration has voiced concern that the measure could undermine the "reset" in U.S.-Russia relations. However, analysts say that Obama is not likely to veto the measure if it's passed by the House and Senate.

In Helsinki, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on June 27, "We think there is a way of expressing concerns [over Russia's rights record] without derailing the relationship [and that is] what we are working with our Congress to do and we have every reason to believe we can accomplish that."

Speaking at a think-tank event in Washington, Russian opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Moscow would not contemplate scaling back cooperation on major security issues as a response.

"I don't think so, absolutely not -- just because Mr. Putin and the people on his team see their lack of legitimacy internally. Social polls already show that more than 50 percent of the population cannot see this [government] as a legitimate power," Kasyanov said.

"That's why Putin badly needs external sources of legitimacy, and that's why [Russian cooperation] on international security issues like Afghanistan and Iran will be continued."

Jackson-Vanik Repeal

Passage of the Magnitsky legislation has been tied in Congress to efforts to repeal Cold War-era restrictions on trade with Russia.

Repealing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is needed to grant Russia permanent normalized trade relations with the United States.

The Obama administration has pushed for the repeal. Without it, analysts say Washington could find itself at a disadvantage as Russia prepares to enter the World Trade Organization, the body that sets trade rules and enforces trade agreements between the organization's members.

Some supporters in the U.S. Congress of the Magnitsky bill have said they would vote against normalizing trade relations with Russia unless the Magnitsky bill is attached.

With reporting by AFP and ITAR-TASS

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