Obama signs Russian human rights law, angers Putin
President Barack Obama Friday signed legislation that sanctions alleged Russian human rights abuses, which outraged Moscow after being coupled with a bill granting it normal trade relations.
Obama signed the measure into law a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the so-called Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials allegedly implicated in the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement minutes after Obama formally signed the legislation in the Oval Office, saying the move amounted to “open meddling” in its internal affairs and was “a blind and dangerous position.”
Magnitsky was held in pre-trial jail on fraud allegations when he died in 2009 at age 37 of several untreated conditions.
Prior to his arrest, he claimed to have discovered a major tax fraud covered up by Russian interior ministry officials and testified against them.
Putin’s comments came before the Russian lower house gave initial backing to a bill that Moscow sees as tit-for-tat retaliation for the Magnitsky legislation passed by Congress last week.
“The investigation (into Magnitsky’s death) is not over yet, and it’s not yet clear who is right and who is wrong there, what the situation is. This is a purely political, unfriendly act,” Putin said.
“I don’t understand why,” he said. “Why do they need it? They (the United States) talk of a reset but they themselves make the situation worse.”
The legislation approves establishing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia, ending Cold War-era restrictions, and grants the same status to Moldova.
The repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment was meant to reflect the changes in the world with Russia’s ascension to the World Trade Organization.
The White House opposed turning the trade bill into a referendum on Russia’s human rights record amid already-strained ties, after Obama engineered a “reset” of relations with Russia in his first term.
Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, earlier gave initial backing to the bill that would blacklist some Americans with entry bans and asset freezes in retaliation for the Magnitsky bill.
In the first of three readings, 431 lawmakers voted in favor and two against. Once passed by the Duma and the upper house, the Federation Council, the bill will need to be signed by Putin to become law.
While initial discussion in Moscow revolved around sanctioning US officials implicated in the controversial Guantanamo prison or torture, deputies later decided to switch focus to Russian children allegedly abused on American soil.
One United Russia deputy has already dubbed the legislation the “Dima Yakovlev Bill” in honor of a two-year-old Russian boy who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his adoptive American father forgot him in a car in summer temperatures.
The father was controversially acquitted of involuntary manslaughter by a county judge in Virginia, a decision that was slammed by Moscow and eventually led to a new US-Russia adoption law that gave Russia more oversight.
The blacklist will also include judicial officials who handed out “baseless and unfair” verdicts on Russians. The blacklist will be kept by the Russian foreign ministry, the bill says.