Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said a US law that punishes Russians who abuse human rights was poisoning ties with Washington, but signaled support for a retaliatory ban on Americans adopting Russian children.
In comments broadcast live to the nation, Putin, 60, also laughed off speculation that he was in bad health and said Russia’s economy was in good shape.
Putin struck a hawkish tone in his first annual news conference since he returned to the presidency in May for a six-year term after four years as prime minister and presented himself as the guarantor of stability after months of protests.
He said he regretted new legislation signed by US President Barack Obama last week that will punish Russians accused of violating human rights by refusing them visas and freezing their assets in the US.
“This is very bad. This, of course, poisons our relationship,” he said.
Putin and Obama have indicated they want to warm up ties following their presidential election victories this year, but the spat over human rights endangers those efforts.
Despite the threat, Putin indicated he would sign into law a tit-for-tat move by Russia’s lower house of parliament that would stop Americans adopting Russian children and bar entry to Americans who abuse Russians’ rights.
The feud began when the US Congress approved a trade bill that orders the US to deny visas to Russian human rights violators. It was drawn up because of concern over the death in a Russian prison of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. Putin backed the original Duma bill, but has signaled he wants to contain the dispute.
The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that Putin has serious health problems since he was seen limping at a September Asia-Pacific summit and Russian government sources told foreign media he was suffering from back trouble.
“This is only beneficial for political opponents who are trying to question the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the authorities,” Putin said.
Putin began the news conference by reeling off economic data for the world’s ninth-largest economy, forecasting that it would grow by 3.7 percent this year.
He said that Russia’s economy was performing well, particularly next to the EU and the US.
Putin said the EU recession had acted as a drag on Russian growth and that a poor harvest had hit the economy in the third and fourth quarters, lifting inflation above 6 percent.
He expressed concern over slowing industrial output growth, but highlighted Russia’s low unemployment rate — between 5.3 and 5.4 percent — which he said was “good, one of the best in all the developed economies of the world.”