LOS CABOS: Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Moscow’s strong opposition to the US missile defence system on Tuesday, saying that President Barack Obama’s re-election would not end the dispute and insisting on joint development of the shield.
“I think that the missile defence issue will not be solved regardless of whether Obama is elected or not,” he told reporters at the end of Group of 20 summit in Mexico.
“I think that something can radically change only in the case if the US agrees with our proposal which says that Russia, Europe and US were equal participants of this process,” said Putin.
Moscow says the interceptors that the United States and Nato are deploying as part of the system will be able to destroy Russian warheads in flight by about 2018, upsetting the post-Cold War balance of power.
Washington maintains that the missile defence system, which is to be deployed in four phases by about 2020, is intended to counter a potential threat from Iran and poses no risk to Russia.
Putin also called the controversial death of an anti-corruption lawyer in Russia a tragedy, but said Moscow would retaliate if the US Congress used the case to penalize Russians for alleged human rights abuses.
Speaking to reporters, Putin said Russia did not think the matter prompted by the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, 37, deserved the attention it was getting in Washington.
A US Senate committee plans to vote next week on a bipartisan proposal to deny visas and freeze assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky's death after he spent a year in Russian jails.
Magnitsky worked for the equity fund Hermitage Capital in Moscow and his case spooked investors and blackened the nation's image abroad.
The Senate version would also include human rights abusers “anywhere in the world,” a provision some say could keep Russia from feeling singled out but would also be difficult to implement.
A House of Representatives committee approved its own version this month.
Putin said Russia would reciprocate if the full Congress were to act.
“As far as this law linked to Magnitsky's tragedy is concerned, if it will be passed, so be it,” Putin said.
“We do not think that it (situation around Magnitsky) deserves such an attention from the Congress, but if there will be restrictions on entry to (the) U.S. for some Russian citizens, then there will be restrictions for entry to Russia for some Americans,” he said. “I do not know who needs it and why, but if it happens it happens. The choice is not ours.”
Magnitsky was jailed in Russia in 2008 on charges of tax evasion and fraud. His colleagues say those were fabricated by police investigators whom he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax returns.
The Kremlin's own human rights council said last year that he was probably beaten to death.
Putin and Obama discussed the Magnitsky bill on Monday at the Mexico summit, US envoy to Russia Michael McFaul said.
The Obama administration says it understands concerns of the bill's sponsors about rights abuses. But it says the bill is unnecessary.
The White House is anxious to keep the push for sanctions on rights abusers in Russia from slowing efforts to get congressional approval of “permanent normal trade relations” with Moscow this year.
Those efforts are also under threat by US lawmakers unhappy with Russia's support for the Syrian government in its bloody crackdown on a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.