May 15, 2018 / 11:40 AM / in 2 months

Russia inches towards making observation of U.S. sanctions a crime

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers unanimously approved in its first reading on Tuesday a bill that makes it a criminal offense to observe sanctions imposed by the United States or other countries, as part of counter-sanctions measures against Washington.

The United States last month imposed sanctions on some of Russia’s biggest companies and businessmen, striking at allies of President Vladimir Putin to punish Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other “malign activities”.

The draft bill, which will have its second reading on Thursday, would make refusing to supply services or do business with a Russian citizen, citing U.S. or other sanctions, a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.

Any person or representatives of legal entities in Russia found guilty of such an offense could also face other limits on their freedom or fines of up to 600,000 roubles ($9,696).

The bill would also make it a criminal offense for Russian citizens to help foreign governments sanction Russia by providing advice or information.

That offense would be punishable by up to three years in jail or other restrictions on an individual’s freedom, or by a fine of up to 500,000 roubles.

Initially lawmakers vowed to impose restrictions on a wide range of goods and services from the United States, including medicine and agricultural products.

But they have since diluted the proposed counter-sanctions measures, removing language that targeted specific goods and sectors because of fears about the potential impact on Russian consumers and industries.

The draft law, which has caused concern and uncertainty among investors in Russian assets, is likely to be changed in subsequent readings before it is signed by Putin.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last month voiced support for the initiative and pledged that the government would help companies targeted by U.S. sanctions.

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Catherine Evans

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