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Russia set to retaliate on U.S. Magnitsky law

A tombstone on the grave of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail, at a cemetery in Moscow. (Misha Japaridze/AP)

Russian legislators began their promised retaliation Monday against the Magnitsky Act passed by Congress, saying they will enact a law before the end of the month banning visas for Americans who harm adopted Russian children, for example, or kidnap Russian citizens from third countries.

Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand, was convicted in New York this year for arms trafficking despite Russian protests, and many Russians consider his arrest a kidnapping.

The Magnitsky Act imposes a visa ban and financial sanctions on Russians who violate human rights. It was named in honor of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax adviser who died in 2009 in pretrial detention in Moscow at age 37. His body bore signs of beating and torture, according to independent investigators, and no one has been held accountable for his death.

In this tit for tat, however, the Russian side finds itself at a disadvantage. Last year, about 159,000 Russians traveled to the United States, according to the U.S. State Department, but only about 75,000 Americans traveled to Russia.

Russia has other possible weapons. Over the weekend, officials said that U.S. pork and beef exported to Russia would have to be certified free of ractopamine, an animal feed additive. U.S. trade officials called the requirement a violation of World Trade Organization rules.

Russia’s chief sanitary doctor said the measure was a food safety issue, but he has periodically made rulings that enhance political ends, banning Georgian wine as unhealthy as the two countries grew unfriendly.

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