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Russia to Ban U.S.-Funded NGOs, Adoptions in Retaliatory Step

Russia’s lower house of parliament gave preliminary approval to a ban on U.S.-funded non-government organizations and adoptions of Russian children in the U.S., escalating a rift between the two countries.

The State Duma passed the measures today in the second of three required readings. The bans are retaliation for a law approved in the U.S. this month that imposes a visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other human-rights abuses.

“This is the response of a sovereign state, protecting its citizens,” said Vladimir Pligin, a senior lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party.

Russia condemned the U.S. legislation and repeatedly warned it would damage ties between the two countries. Tensions are already growing after President Vladimir Putin, who faced unprecedented protests in late 2011 and early this year, criticized the administration of Barack Obama over its efforts to promote democracy in Russia and oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Magnitsky, an attorney for London-based Hermitage Capital, alleged a $230 million tax fraud by Russian officials. He died at age 37 in November 2009 after being beaten to death and denied medical care during almost a year in pre-trial detention on fabricated tax evasion charges, according to a Russian presidential human-rights body.

Separate legislation passed this year requires groups that receive money from abroad to register themselves as “foreign agents” and submit to tighter controls. The Justice Ministry threatened to close human-rights organization Memorial, vote-monitor Golos and the Moscow branch of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International after they said they’ll flout the new rules.

Putin’s administration also ordered the closure in October of U.S. aid agency USAID, which has financed NGOs in Russia including Golos and Memorial. The NGO law is in line with international practice, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

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