The Obama administration will send Congress on Friday a list of 18 alleged abusers of human rights in Russia, a congressional source said, in a move that could cause more friction in the U.S. relationship with Moscow.
The list includes 16 people directly related to the case of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in his jail cell in 2009, as well as two others, said the source, who asked not to be named. The people named on the list will be subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under a law passed by Congress last year.
The list was to be sent to Congress later on Friday, the source said. Its contents were expected to be published in the U.S. Federal Register. The action could aggravate U.S.-Russia relations, already strained by what critics say is a crackdown on dissent in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, and disputes over security issues such as the war in Syria.
"The appearance of any lists will doubtless have a very negative effect on bilateral Russian-American relations," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Siberia earlier on Friday.
The list was required by the Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in December as part of a broader bill to expand U.S. trade with Russia. The Obama administration was never keen on the legislation, but the president signed the bill in December.
The law requires the administration to draw up an initial list by Saturday of people linked to the Magnitsky case or to other alleged "gross violations of internationally-recognized human rights" in Russia.
Russia considers the Magnitsky Act outside interference in its affairs, and warns it may respond by issuing a list of alleged U.S. human rights abusers. Moscow has already retaliated by outlawing adoptions of Russian children by American couples.
Magnitsky worked for the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management in Moscow and was arrested on tax fraud charges shortly after he leveled similar accusations against Russian state officials in 2008.
Putin has said that Magnitsky's death at age 37 was caused by heart failure. But the Kremlin's own human rights council has aired suspicions that Magnitsky was beaten to death. His death spooked investors and tarnished Russia's image abroad.