Putin backs tit-for-tat response to U.S. rights law

Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:43am EST
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By Alexei Anishchuk and Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin backed a ban on Americans adopting Russian children on Thursday in a feud over a U.S. law that aims to punish Russians accused of violating human rights.

In his first annual news conference since he began a new six-year term in May, the former KGB spy often struck a hawkish tone, signaling support for tough retaliation against the "unfriendly" Magnitsky Act passed by Moscow's former Cold War enemy, which he said was poisoning relations.

He also held up a court ruling that will free former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky - a fierce critic of Putin's rule - from jail two years early in 2014 as evidence that he does not control the courts.

The 4-1/2-hour performance, broadcast live, was intended to end speculation about the 60-year-old's health and portray him as the guarantor of stability in a country that was under Soviet communist rule two decades ago.

"This is by no means the least successful period in Russia's history," he said, adding: "Because I love Russia."

"Without irony, I look forward to any future president being more successful."

Sitting in an immaculate suit and tie behind a large desk in front of 1,200 journalists in a Moscow conference center, Putin calmly took questions, some of them hostile, on issues from pensions to the crisis in Syria.

Occasionally sipping tea as journalists frantically waved their arms in the hope of asking a question, he became most animated when asked about the legislation signed by President Barack Obama last week.   Continued...

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov