WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday a Russian court's decision to uphold the conviction of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky raised serious concerns about the Kremlin's commitment to the rule of law.
The Moscow City Court on Tuesday affirmed the theft and money laundering convictions of Khodorkovsky, the former chief of the Yukos oil company, and his business partner Platon Lebedev in a case government critics say was politically motivated.
Top U.S. officials including Vice President Joe Biden have said the case could hurt Russia's business climate, and the State Department criticized "the apparent selective application of law to these individuals."
"The denial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev's appeals, upholding long prison terms, affirms our concerns about serious due process violations and the use of the legal system for improper ends," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
"Russia cannot nurture a modern economy without also nurturing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth and modernization and ensuring equal treatment under the law."
U.S. officials have hailed the "reset" in relations with Russia under the Obama administration and have said they will work to get Russia admitted to the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But they say Russia's record on human rights and the rule of law are a concern.
"Russia has made great gains in the past decades to modernize its economy, to become a more modern state. But we've always said that human rights issues are part of our bilateral relationship with Russia and we're not going to shy away from discussing those," Toner said.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, fell afoul of the Kremlin during Vladimir Putin's presidency and has been jailed since 2003. He will remain in prison well into 2016.
Government critics describe the prosecution of Khodorkovsky as part of a Kremlin campaign to tighten state control over oil revenues and punish the tycoon for perceived challenges to Putin, president from 2000-2008 and now prime minister.
Khodorkovsky is charged with stealing billions of dollars of oil from Yukos subsidiaries through price mechanisms and laundering some of the money.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)