US announces sanctions on 18 over dead Russian lawyer
The United States announced Friday that it had imposed sanctions on 18 people seen as linked to Moscow's handling of the case of dead human rights lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The US Treasury sanctions, which freeze a foreign target's assets and ban Americans from doing business with him, came as Washington presses Moscow over Magnitsky, who died in 2009 after 11 months in Russian jails.
"The November 2009 death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial detention in Moscow was a tragedy, and the investigation into his death has yielded no visible result," a senior US official said Friday.
"Russian officials implicated directly in Magnitsky's imprisonment and prison officials directly involved in the series of decisions that led to his death remain unpunished."
Some of the names on the Treasury list match those of Russian interior ministry officials involved in the Magnitsky case that were included in a blacklist proposed by a US congressman.
The US is also expected to release publicly the names of possibly scores of Russians hit with sanctions and blacklisted from receiving a visa to the United States under the "Sergei Magnitsky Act" passed last year.
Washington has called for justice in the case of the whistle-blowing rights lawyer.
The list has always been kept secret but is believed to include people involved in jailing and prosecuting Magnitsky as well as officials who have joined the Kremlin's crackdown on Russians' political rights.
"We will therefore use these and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here," the US official said.
Earlier on Friday, Moscow had warned Washington not to publish any blacklist of Russians tied to the case, and threatened to retaliate with its own public blacklist.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the public naming could leave lasting damage on future ties between the two former Cold War foes.
"The appearance of some lists will unquestionably have a very negative impact on Russian-US bilateral relations," news agencies quoted Peskov as saying.
He said that cooperation between the two sides would nonetheless continue on some issues should the list be published.
"Even when under the weight of such possible negative events, and despite the damage these negative events cause, (our relations) still have numerous prospects for further development," said Peskov.
"There will always be a lot of issues to discuss" he added.
Moscow reacted with anger when the Magnitsky Act was passed last year and in retaliation Russia's parliament agreed legislation barring American families from adopting Russian children.
The Russian foreign ministry has since drawn up its own blacklist of US officials alleged to have committed human rights violations.
A former US senior commander at the Guantanamo base in Cuba where the United States keeps terror suspects has already been denied entry by Moscow in a highly publicized case.
Moscow also accuses Washington of inciting Russia's recent anti-Putin protests and has recently launched a crackdown against non-governmental organizations with foreign funding.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov argued that it was Washington that should bear the blame for this deterioration in ties.
"We have said many times that this is all extremely destructive for our bilateral relations, that we would have never initiated such steps -- our relations have enough problems as it is," ITAR-TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.
"But since the US side... decided to proceed in such a manner, we have had no choice but to respond."
An unnamed Russian source told ITAR-TASS that Moscow's counter-measures would be "symmetrical" and should be expected by Saturday.