President Barack Obama onFriday signed a bill that brings U.S. trade relations withRussia into the 21st century but also ushers in a testy era inwhich the United States could publicly "name and shame" Russianhuman rights violators.
The measure, which Congress passed by an overwhelmingmargin, allows Obama to establish "permanent normal traderelations" - or PNTR - with Russia by lifting a Cold War-erarestriction on trade.
It also directs Obama to bar Russian human rights violatorsfrom entering the United States and freeze any assets they havein U.S. banks. The provision is named in honor of SergeiMagnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer many U.S. lawmakersbelieve was beaten to death in a Russian jail in 2009.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called thecongressional approval of the bill "a purely political andunfriendly act."
"I don't get why they would sacrifice U.S.-Russia relationsin order to get some political dividends at home," Putin said.
Moscow kept up the fiery rhetoric on Friday in a ForeignMinistry statement after Obama's signing. It called the law"shortsighted and dangerous" and an "overt interference into ourinternal affairs."
The statement put most of the blame for the Magnitskymeasure on U.S. lawmakers, but said it regretted Obama could not"overcome those ... who see our country not as a partner but asan enemy."
U.S.-Russia relations have already been strained over theconflict in Syria and the treatment of critics of the Kremlinsince Putin returned to the presidency in May.
Russia last week banned imports of U.S. pork and beefcontaining ractopamine, a widely used feed additive the UnitedNation's food agency in July said "had no impact on humanhealth" if residues stay within recommended levels.
"Being a WTO member means Russia's import standards have tobe based on sound science, but their plan to block U.S. beef andpork is anything but sound," Senate Finance Committee ChairmanMax Baucus said, referring to the World Trade Organization,which Russia joined in August.
He urged Moscow to reverse the move.
The Magnitsky law directs Obama to publish the names ofRussians deemed to be human rights violators, but allows him tokeep some names classified if he decides that it is in the U.S.national security interest.
Congress is due to receive the first list in 120 days andObama must explain in advance any names he decides to keepsecret.
RUSSIAN LAWMAKERS RECIPROCATE
The new law will be "of great benefit to both us and to theRussians," U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrellsaid.
"We continue to call on Russia to investigate, prosecute andpunish those responsible for the crimes committed against Mr.Magnitsky," he said.
But Russia considers the Magnitsky provision an insult. OnFriday the lower chamber of its parliament gave preliminaryapproval to a measure barring Americans who violate the rightsof Russians from entering the country.
It targets Americans involved in "unfounded or unjust"sentences against Russians - a nod to Viktor Bout, a Russianarms trader serving a 25-year prison term in the United Statesafter what Moscow says was a politically motivated prosecutionand an unfair trial.
The Russian bill, expected to be signed by Putin before theend of the year, also targets Americans accused of abusingRussian-born adopted children and U.S. judges or authoritiesdeemed to have been too lenient in such cases.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers have proposed the bill be named afterDima Yakovlev, a Russian-born boy who died at the age of 18months after his adoptive U.S. family left him locked in avehicle in Virginia in 2008.
"It stretches the imagination to see an equal or reciprocalsituation here," Ventrell said. "The issue of adoption is onethat we've worked very hard with the Russians, it is somethingwe've looked at carefully. But we just reject any attempt attrying to make a reciprocal comparison."
Business groups pushed Congress for months to approve PNTR,which was needed to ensure U.S. companies get all themarket-opening benefits of Russia's entry into the WTO.
Without it, U.S. companies such as Caterpillar , Ford, JPMorgan Chase and others feared they would be ata disadvantage to competitors in other countries that alreadyhave full WTO relations with Russia.
It was also needed to allow the United States to use the WTOdispute-settlement system to challenge any Russian actions itsays unfairly restrict U.S. imports, although the two sidesstill need to formally establish full WTO relations in Genevafirst.