Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday lambasted a U.S. bill imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights violations, saying that it hurts Russian-American relations.
Congress last week passed a bill penalizing Russian officials accused of rights violations. The Russians have bristled at the bill, which they interpret as U.S. intervention in Moscow's domestic affairs, and have vowed to retaliate.
In remarks carried by Russian news agencies Putin on Thursday described the U.S. bill as "a politicized and unfriendly act" and lauded the Russian parliament's planned response.
"I can't understand why one has to sacrifice Russian-U.S. relations in favor of reaping a political dividend," he said.
The U.S. bill is named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested by police officials he accused of a $230 million tax fraud. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment and in 2009 died in jail. Russian rights groups accused the Kremlin of failing to prosecute those responsible. Moreover, the officials that Magnitsky accused of fraud went on to be promoted.
Putin mentioned on Thursday that the investigation into the lawyer's death is still ongoing and "it's not clear yet who's right or wrong there."
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers on Monday submitted a bill to the Russian parliament with measures against U.S. citizens "who are rudely violating human rights."
In a move widely seen as punishment for the U.S. bill, Russia has also required all shipments of U.S. beef and pork to be tested and proved free of an animal feed additive called ractopamine. The measure effectively amounts to a ban because the U.S. considers ractopamine safe and does not test for it.
Putin on Thursday said he wondered why the Americans were paying so much attention to a Russian jail death and suggested that deaths behind bars are frequent in the U.S.
"Why, doesn't anyone ever die in jail out there?," he asked.