WASHINGTON -- Human rights legislation crafted by Sen. Ben Cardin and targeted at abuses in Russia sailed through the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan vote Thursday and will now be signed by President Obama.
The provision requires the State Department to maintain a list of human rights abusers in Russia, freeze their assets and deny them U.S. visas. The language was attached to a broader bill that lifts Cold War-era trade restrictions on Russia. The Senate passed the measure 92-4.
The bill is a significant legislative victory for Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who has promoted the measure for years and who managed to steer it through an otherwise gridlocked Congress. And he did it without much help from the White House: The Obama administration did not support linking the human rights legislation to the trade bill.
Cardin's bill was a response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who died in custody in Russia after exposing government corruption.
"Now we start a new chapter in human rights," Cardin said at a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday. "The legislation sets a precedent for international conduct that we expect will be honored globally."
The law comes at a time of delicate diplomacy with Russia. Despite the Obama administration's earlier effort to "reset" its relationship with Moscow, there have been disputes between the two nations over NATO involvement in Libya and Russian weapons sales to the Assad regime in Syria.
In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry described the Senate vote as "a performance in the theater of the absurd." The Kremlin has threatened to retaliate for the bill.
"We are sending a signal to Vladimir Putin and the Russian kleptocracy that these kind of abuses of human rights will not be tolerated without us responding in some appropriate fashion," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I believe that this legislation is not anti Russia. I believe it's pro Russia."
In a statement that focused mainly on its trade provisions, Obama said he will sign the measure.
"My administration will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world," the statement read.