* Russia says Obama visit likely in first half of 2013
* Kremlin says Magnitsky Act has damaged relations
* Russia will respond to “unfriendly move” - Putin aide
By Alexei Anishchuk
MOSCOW, Dec 18 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to visit Russia in the first half of 2013 despite a “mini-crisis” in relations over U.S. moves to punish Russians accused of rights abuses, a Kremlin aide said on Tuesday.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been angered by the U.S. Congress passing the so-called Magnitsky Act which will bar entry to alleged Russian human rights violators and freeze any assets they hold in the United States.
Obama signed the legislation last week. But, signalling that the Kremlin does not want the spat to block efforts to improve relations, foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said Putin stood by an invitation for the U.S. president to visit Russia.
“We reckon that Obama’s visit could take place in the first half of next year,” he told a news briefing.
The Russian parliament has given initial approval to a tit-for-tat law barring Americans accused of human rights violations from entering the country, and the “reset” in relations which Obama called for four years ago has not gone as well as hoped.
Lawmakers have also proposed banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, a move backed by Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, Pavel Astakhov.
The proposal has upset Kremlin critics and human rights activists, and two government ministers called on Tuesday for restraint over such a move. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the ban would be wrong and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov criticised the idea on Twitter.
“The logic is like ‘an eye for an eye’, but the logic is wrong, as children could suffer harm if they cannot find adoptive parents in Russia,” he said.
Any such ban would go back on a bilateral agreement ratified in June on rules for U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.
Both Obama and Putin have signalled, since winning presidential elections this year, that they want U.S.-Russian ties to warm up, and Putin invited Obama to visit soon after the U.S. election last month.
Obama is expected to come to Russia in September anyway, for a Group of 20 summit in St Petersburg, but a separate visit for a bilateral summit would send a positive signal to Moscow about his intentions.
Obama visited Russia in 2009, and struck up a good rapport with then-President Dmitry Medvedev. The “reset” led to the signing of a new nuclear-arms reduction treaty, but Obama has a more difficult relationship with Putin.
The Magnitsky Act was drawn up because of U.S. concern over the death in a Russian prison of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. It has outraged Russian politicians and members of parliament.
“This is an unfriendly move,” Ushakov said at Tuesday’s briefing. “These moves cannot be left unanswered.”
“The Americans have created a mini-crisis out of nothing. We are losing time for the normal development of relations,” he said. “Now we need to spend some time getting through this mini-crisis.”
Putin has described the legislation as an attempt by Washington to “reap some political dividends at home”.