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Lavrov Warns Magnitsky Bill Would Hurt U.S.-Russia Relations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Washington on April 11
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Washington on April 11
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says legislation proposed by U.S. senators on the death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky would hurt bilateral relations.

Magnitsky, 37, died in pretrial detention in 2009 after implicating top Russian officials in a scheme to defraud the government. He was routinely denied medical help in prison.

This week, Russia dropped charges against one of two prison doctors accused of causing Magnitsky's death through negligence.

The proposed U.S. legislation envisages sanctions against Russian officials deemed to have committed human rights violations. It would replace the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment limiting trade with the Soviet Union, which has not been formally repealed.

Lavrov, speaking at a news conference after a Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Washington on April 11, slammed the bill as "anti-Russian" and an attempt at "meddling" in Russia's internal affairs.

He said that would be "categorically unacceptable" for Russia.

"The American side knows our position on attempts to replace Jackson-Vanik with something new," he said, "and transform an anti-Soviet amendment into anti-Russian legislation. Such attempts are categorically unacceptable for us. This will hurt our relations rather seriously because the Magnitsky case is, first and foremost, a Russian issue."

Jackson-Vanik has long been a thorn in U.S.-Russian relations.

Introduced during the Cold War to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate, it has repeatedly been waived by the United States over the past two decades but remains on the books.

The Obama administration has said that unless Jackson-Vanik is repealed, the United States will miss out on trade opportunities after Russia joins the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year.

A group of influential U.S. lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, have said they would oppose repealing Jackson-Vanik unless it is replaced by a measure imposing sanctions against Russian officials linked to human rights abuses.

The Magnitsky bill -- called the Sergei Magnistky Rule of Law Accountability Act -- would deny visas to and block the U.S. assets of some 60 Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky's prosecution and pretrial detention.

With reporting by AFP and RIA Novosti
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