WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia's ambassador to the United States warned that proposed U.S. legislation to punish Russian officials involved in human rights abuses could a have significant negative impact on U.S.-Russian relations.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak said the U.S. Congress should not tie the so-called Sergei Magnitsky bill to an expected vote this year on establishing "permanent normal trade relations" between the two countries.
"If that is taken to an extreme, it'll be a significant negative impact on Russian-Americans relations," Kislyak told reporters. "We are a serious country and we do not want to be told what to do within the limits of Russian law."
The 2009 death of the 37-year-old Magnitsky, who worked for equity fund Hermitage Capital and died after a year in Russian jails, spooked investors and tarnished Russia's image.
Before his arrest, Magnitsky had testified against Russian interior ministry officials during a tax evasion case against Hermitage. The Kremlin human rights council says he was probably beaten to death.
The case has heightened concerns in Congress about human rights conditions in Russia and made it even harder for the White House to persuade lawmakers to lift a Cold War-era trade provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
However, if Congress refuses to remove the provision, Russia could legally deny U.S. companies the market-opening benefits of Moscow's accession into the World Trade Organization, which is expected by late July or August.
A number of lawmakers in both houses of Congress want the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik provision to include language that punishes human rights abusers in Russia, such as those who may be responsible for the Magnitsky's death.
They have been pushing for legislation that includes asset freezes and visa bans on human rights violators in Russia.
At a luncheon for reporters, Kislyak said Russia was eager to improve trade and investment ties with the United States and hoped the Magnitsky case would not get in the way.
"As far as we are concerned, Magnitsky case has nothing to do with trade," Kislyak said. "For us, the proposition to bring Magnitsky case, it's almost an attempt to replace an anti-Soviet Jackson-Vanik (law), by anti-Russian Magnitsky law."
(Reporting by Doug Palmer and Susan Cornwell, Editing by Doina Chiacu)