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Russia threatens to ban Americans over human-rights abuses

Andrey Smirnov/AFP - Getty Images

Snow covers the grave of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky at a cemetery in Moscow on Friday.

MOSCOW — Moscow 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.

The legislation 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 President Vladimir Putin's government.

The U.S. 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.

Magnitsky was repeatedly denied medical treatment and in 2009 died after almost a year in jail after being severely beaten by guards. Russian rights groups accused the Kremlin of failing to prosecute those responsible, while independent media claimed that such tax frauds are widespread.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian media that he had warned U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their meeting in Dublin on Thursday that Russia "will ban entry to the Americans who are in fact guilty of violating human rights."

'Theater of the absurd'
Russia's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. Senate vote late Thursday was a "show in the theater of the absurd."

It warned that Russia will respond to the new legislation in kind, adding that the United States 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.

Russian whistleblower dies in UK under strange circumstances

It added 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."

Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected head of the Foreign Affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said that lawmakers will consider legislation that would impose travel restrictions and an assets freeze on U.S. citizens accused of human rights violations.

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

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And Alexei Navalny, Russia's leading anti-corruption whistleblower and opposition leader, wrote in his blog Friday that officials' anger against the U.S. legislation stems from fear for their foreign assets.

"The Magnitsky act is absolutely pro-Russian. It is aimed at scoundrels who stole [money], laundered it abroad, then tortured and killed a Russian citizen,” he said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week voiced concern that EU nations may follow the U.S. example and pass similar laws.

Media reports said that British authorities have compiled a list of 60 Russian officials barred from entry over their alleged involvement in Magnitsky's death. 

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