Russia warned that Friday's scheduled publication of a list of alleged human-rights abusers would be a “serious blow” to U.S.-Russian relations and that it's ready to retaliate by releasing its own register of 104 blacklisted American officials.
"The appearance of any lists will doubtless have a very negative effect on bilateral Russian-American relations," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Friday, according to Reuters.
Publishing the list, Russian officials told Russia's Kommersant newspaper, would “doom” upcoming talks with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who's visiting Moscow on Sunday to discuss further cuts to the two countries' nuclear arsenals among other topics.
“This agreement can be considered as an unfortunate accident,” a Russian official told the newspaper. “The U.S. administration is clearly not planning to synchronize the arrival of Donilon and disclosure of the Magnitsky list.”
The newspaper said the list was a topic of discussion when Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov earlier this week. Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) has submitted a list of 280 people he wants to see on the register, but the Obama administration is reportedly considering making as few as 15 names public while keeping the rest secret for “national security” reasons.
The law, co-championed by McGovern and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is named after a Russian whistleblower who died in jail. It freezes the U.S. assets of alleged human-rights violators and bars them from traveling to the United States. Soon after it was signed into law, Russia barred Americans from adopting Russian children in apparent retaliation.
The White House has high hopes for Donilon's trip, and is likely to seek to limit the Magnitsky Act's impact even if it means upsetting human-rights champions in Congress.
Donilon's meetings with “senior Russian officials” on Sunday and Monday aim in part to persuade the Kremlin to abandon its support for Syria's Bashar Assad and to continue working with the United States to force Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program.
Donilon and his counterparts will “review next steps in our bilateral relationship, as well as a range of key foreign policy, security, and economic issues on our international agenda,” National Security Council Caitlin Hayden said. “This visit offers an important opportunity to consult with senior officials ahead of President Obama’s meetings with President Putin later this year.”