Putin slams U.S. rights bill, signals measured response

MOSCOW Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:08am EST

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin in Moscow December 12, 2012. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin in Moscow December 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Grigory Dukor

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's President Vladimir Putin criticized U.S. legislation designed to punish Russian violators of human rights on Thursday but said Moscow's reaction should not be excessive.

The U.S. Senate last week approved a bill that would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of people involved in the abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009, and other alleged rights violators. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law soon.

"This is a purely political and unfriendly act," Putin said.

He voiced support for a bill now under consideration in Russia's parliament that would respond to the U.S. legislation with similar measures, barring entry to Americans deemed to have violated the rights of Russian citizens abroad.

But he signaled that Russia's response would not go far beyond that bill, telling a meeting of lawmakers that Moscow's reaction "should be adequate but not excessive".

Russia has said it could respond with other unspecified measures. It denied any connection between the Magnitsky Act and its announcement on Friday of restrictions on meat imports from several countries including the United States.

Putin said the U.S. Magnitsky Act would further strain a relationship tested by the conflict in Syria and the treatment of critics of the Kremlin since his return to the presidency in May.

"Why do they need this? They talk about a 'reset' when they themselves make the situation worse," Putin said, referring to Obama's efforts in his first term to improve relations.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel;Editing by Steve Gutterman and Angus MacSwan)

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