Russia warned the US on Thursday to expect a tough response if the US Congress passes “unfriendly and provocative” legislation designed to punish Russian officials for human rights violations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said US-Russian ties were sure to suffer if lawmakers backed a move directing the US government to deny visas to Russian officials involved in the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in jail in 2009.
“Such a step will unavoidably have a negative effect on the whole range of Russian-US relations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news briefing.
“We will certainly not leave the introduction of essentially anti-Russian visa and financial sanctions without consequences,” he said. “We will have to react, and react toughly, depending on the final version of this unfriendly provocative act.”
Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives brushed off the threat as they voted 243-164 on Thursday to include the legislation in a broader package to extend “permanent normal trade relations,” or PNTR, to Russia.
The House was expected to approve the combined bill yesterday with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
“Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s death and it is outrageous ... that this kind of action in this 21st century still exists in a country that claims to be a democracy,” said David Dreier, the Republican chairman of the House Rules Committee.
“It is horrendous and it is unacceptable,” Dreier said.
Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 on suspicion of tax evasion and fraud, charges colleagues say were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of stealing US$230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds. The Kremlin’s own human rights council has said he was probably beaten to death.
Lukashevich used tough language to condemn the state of human rights in the US.
“Considering very crude violations of human rights in the United States itself, including the practical legalization of torture and the indefinite holding of inmates without trial in special CIA prisons and at the Guantanamo base [in Cuba], the United States has no moral right to preach or moralize to other countries,” he said.