Reports of Russia's muted response to the U.S. decision to bar 60 people allegedly involved in the death of hedge fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering the country may have been greatly exaggerated.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered his Foreign Ministry to investigate a response to the U.S. action. In a statement, the ministry warned that the U.S. visa ban "could introduce a serious irritant to Russian-U.S. relations."
"We will not leave such unfriendly steps unanswered and we will take adequate measures, protecting the sovereignty of our country and the rights of Russian citizens against unjustified moves by foreign states."
The U.S. move, which followed a Russian report that concluded that Magnitsky had been denied adequate medical care and beaten to death during his nearly one year in custody on tax fraud charges, was made in part to head off more serious action sought by a Senate bill, which would also have frozen the assets of the named Russian officials in the U.S.
State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner confirmed yesterday that the visa bans had been put in place. The restrictions were first reported to the senators backing the tougher bill; Russia was not formally informed.
William Browder, for whom Magnitsky worked at Hermitage Capital Management, cheered the U.S. move.
"Our main goal is to punish the people who tortured and killed him, but the probability in getting justice in Russia is very, very slim, and so we've been looking at ways of getting justice outside of Russia," Browder told The Wall Street Journal. "There, the United States banning these people from coming into the U.S. is a very strong move, and will most likely be replicated in other countries, particularly in Europe."