* Putin signals he backs draft law on adoptions
* Dismisses health concerns as rumours spread by opponents
* Says Russian economy is in good shape
By Alexei Anishchuk and Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Dec 20 President Vladimir Putin said on
Thursday a U.S. law that punishes Russians who abuse human
rights was poisoning ties with Washington but signalled 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 President
Barack Obama last week that will punish Russians accused of
violating human rights by refusing them visas and freezing their
assets in the United States.
"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.
"It is an emotional response by the State Duma (lower house
of parliament) but it is an appropriate response," Putin said.
The feud began when the U.S. Congress approved a trade bill
that orders the United States, Moscow's former Cold War enemy,
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 signalled he
wants to contain the dispute with Obama's administration. The
Kremlin says Obama will visit Russia early next year.
ECONOMY PERFORMING WELL
During his first spell as president from 2000 until 2008,
Putin began a tradition of giving long annual news conferences
to show his grasp of policy detail. The previous one, in 2008,
ran for four hours and 40 minutes.
He appeared intent on showing he has a firm grip on Russia
after the biggest protests since he began his 13-year domination
of the country and to show he is strong and healthy.
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 Reuters
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.
"I can give the traditional answer to the health question:
there's no point in waiting."
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.
"This is a good result overall," he said, suggesting that
Russia's economy was performing well particularly if it was
compared with the euro zone and the United States.
Putin said recession in the euro zone 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 over 6 percent.
He expressed concern over a slowdown in industrial output
growth. But he highlighted Russia's low unemployment rate of
5.3-5.4 percent, which he described as "good - one of the best
in all the developed economies of the world".