By Elise Labott
The United States published a blacklist of alleged human rights abusers in Russia on Friday as part of a law that threatens to further strain ties between Washington and Moscow.
The Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last December, imposes visa bans and freezes assets of accused human rights abusers as well as those believed responsible for the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky uncovered the largest tax fraud in the country's history in the form of rebates claimed by government officials who stole money from the state. He was apparently beaten to death in 2009 after a year in a Moscow detention center.
An additional list submitted to Congress, which is classified, includes people who are subject only to the travel ban.
The blacklist includes six people said to be linked to the Magnitsky case, including senior officials in the Russian interior ministry, prosecutors, judges, prison officials and tax officers.
"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," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
"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," Hayden said.
Other blacklisted names were tied to other high profile cases.
One was accused in the 2006 shooting death of a Chechen man who filed claims against Moscow with the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg for human rights violations in Chechnya.
The other is believed to have played a part in the 2004 murder of American Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes' magazine's Russian edition in what was viewed as an attempt to quash investigative journalism in the country.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the blacklist would have a "very negative effect on bilateral Russian-American relations."
But he appeared to play down the long term impact, saying ties between Moscow and Washington were multi-faced and still had potential for growth.
A senior State Department official told reporters the list was the product of an investigation based on information from non-governmental organizations and other information made available to the United States.
The official said the rigorous standards used to develop this list were similar to those used to designate individuals and companies on other U.S. blacklists. Additional names would be added to the blacklist, should more information become available, the official said.
Absent from the list were certain Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
But the senior State Department official said "political considerations" in the U.S. relationship with Russia were "not a factor" and that additional names could be added to the blacklist, should additional information become available.
"The principal consideration was the status of the information about people and whether we felt the U.S. government standards for freezing the assets of individuals were met," one senior State Department official said. "This is serious business and I think the list was put together with diligence and seriousness."
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, a co-sponsor of the Magnitsky Act, said in a statement it was an important first step.
"While the list is timid and features more significant omissions than names, I was assured by administration officials today that the investigation is ongoing and further additions will be made to the list as new evidence comes to light," McGovern said a statement.
The law has generated friction between the United States and Russia, which has blasted it as a political ploy and an interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.
Following congressional action, Putin signed a Russian law banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans. The foreign ministry has also drawn up its own list of U.S. officials it accuses of committing human rights violations.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned Friday the publication of the list risked overshadowing the visit of National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who is scheduled to visit Moscow on Monday.
"The choice of timing was not entirely favorable," Lavrov said, considering Donilon's visit is meant to address the broad aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship. If the list is published, we will react and our American partners know that."