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Russia has warned Ireland it could break off talks on cross-border adoptions if lawmakers press for sanctions against Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, according to a letter obtained by AFP on Friday.
The threat follows Moscow's decision to ban US adoptions of Russian orphans in retaliation for a recent US law freezing the assets and denying entry to America of those tied to Magnitsky's death in custody in 2009.
The warning was included in a letter from Russian ambassador Maxim Peshkov to Pat Breen, the chairman of the Irish parliament's committee on foreign affairs, which last month began debating plans for an Irish version of the US Magnitsky law.
Dated March 11, the letter cites the US ban on adoptions and says the committee's proposals "can have negative influence on the negotiations on the adoption agreement between Russia and Ireland being proceeded".
Bill Browder, the US-born investor who was Magnitsky's employer when he died and who is campaigning for an EU version of the US law, condemned the ambassador's remarks.
"He is essentially taking innocent Russian orphans hostage to protect the right of corruption Russian officials to travel and keep bank accounts in the West," Browder told AFP.
Former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the centre-right group in the European Parliament, also condemned the Russian "blackmail".
"It is now also essential to have the case of Sergei Magnitsky placed on the agenda of the forthcoming EU-Russia summit," he said.
After the proposal for an Irish Magnitsky law was tabled last month, an amendment was put forward that instead urges Ireland to use its presidency of the EU in the first six months of this year simply to highlight concerns about the lawyer's death.
Breen said the committee was currently seeking a compromise, which would hopefully be debated at its next meeting on Wednesday.
But he denied the amendment was the result of Moscow's pressure, saying it was intended to address human rights concerns in "more diplomatic terms" than were originally used.
He sought to play down the impact of the Russian ambassador's letter, telling AFP: "I personally don't see it as a threat."
Irish couples were stopped from adopting Russian children in 2010 when Dublin adopted the Hague Convention on inter-country adoptions, which Moscow did not sign. But negotiations are underway for a bilateral agreement to allow adoptions to resume.