Russia Says U.S. Ties ‘Not in Best Shape’ on Jewish Claim

U.S.- Russian relations are “not in the best shape” as new irritants complicate dialog, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a U.S. court fined Russia for not returning documents to a New York-based Jewish group.

“We’re witnessing a new aggravation now,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow, referring to the U.S. court ruling last week that ordered Russia to pay $50,000 a day until it returns the Schneerson collection of religious documents sought by Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based library. U.S. authorities did little to counter the decision, Lavrov said.

Ties with the U.S. have deteriorated after Congress in December imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other human-rights abuses. Tensions are also growing after President Vladimir Putin, who faced unprecedented protests since late 2011, criticized U.S. efforts to promote democracy in Russia and oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia responded to the congressional action by banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans. The Magnitsky case isn’t over yet and U.S. lawmakers’ actions amount to meddling in Russian affairs, Lavrov said.

“A human tragedy was used in a cynical way to punish Russia,” he said.

While a U.S.-built missile shield in Europe remains the “main” irritant in U.S.-Russia ties, the library issue marks an “outrageous decision that has nothing to do with justice,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia may sue the Jewish group. The collection of 12,000 books and 381 manuscripts was seized by the Soviet government and is part of Russia’s state library now.

Russia doesn’t want to be lectured by those who are “not irreproachable,” Lavrov said.

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