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Russia fumes at US trade and human rights legislation, threatens to retaliate

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a launching ceremony of the construction of South Stream pipeline in the Black Sea resort of Anapa, southern Russia, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. After years of delays and negotiations, Russian gas company Gazprom on Friday formally started construction of its Europe-bound South Stream pipeline, key to its strategy of eliminating shipping risks by bypassing transit nations like Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

MOSCOW - Russia has strongly criticized U.S. legislation that calls for sanctions against Russian officials accused of human rights abuses and warned that it will respond in kind. A leading anti-corruption crusader, however, hailed the bill as "pro-Russian."

The bill is primarily intended to end Cold War-era trade restrictions and was hailed by U.S. businesses worried about falling behind in the race to win shares of Russia's more open market, but its human rights part has outraged the Kremlin.

The measure, dubbed the Magnitsky act, is named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested by officials he accused of a $230-million tax fraud. He was severely beaten, repeatedly denied medical treatment and died after almost a year in jail in 2009. Russian rights groups accused the Kremlin of failing to prosecute those responsible, while independent media claimed that such tax frauds are widespread.

Russia's Foreign Ministry responded to the U.S. Senate vote late Thursday by calling it a "show in the theatre of the absurd." It warned that Russia will respond to the new legislation in kind, adding that the U.S. will have to take the blame for the worsening of U.S.-Russian ties.

"Probably people in Washington forgot what year it is and are thinking that the Cold War isn't over yet," the ministry said in a statement adding that "it's weird and strange to hear human rights-related complaints against us from the politicians of a country where torture and abductions of people all over the world were legitimized in the 21st century."

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian media that "we will ban entry (to Russia) to Americans that are in fact guilty of violating human rights" in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other nations. Speaking in Dublin late Thursday after a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he reportedly said that he informed her about the possible bans.

Russia's leading anti-corruption whistleblower and opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote in his blog Friday that "the Magnitsky act is absolutely pro-Russian. It is aimed at scoundrels that stole 5.4 billion rubles, laundered it abroad and then tortured and killed a Russian citizen."

Sergei Alexashenko, an economist who was a deputy chief of Russia's Central Bank, said on Ekho Moskvy radio late Thursday that despite the angry official rhetoric, the Kremlin would be unlikely to take strong anti-U.S. action for fear of causing an even bigger strain in relations

The Russian Foreign Ministry also claimed that the new legislation is driven by a "revengeful desire to settle scores" with Russia for its stance on international issues.

Russia and the United States have clashed on Syria, with Washington accusing Moscow of propping up Bashar Assad's regime despite its bloody crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011. According to anti-government activists, more than 36,000 Syrians have been killed.

Russia and China have used their veto power at the United Nations Security Council three times already to block sanctions against Assad's government. Moscow also has continued to ship weapons to Assad, shrugging off Western protests.


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