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The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee denounced Russia for “high-level corruption,” as her panel passed a bill to punish Russians responsible for the death of a lawyer investigating Kremlin graft.

“The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

“Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human-rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless.”

The committee approved a bill named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian police custody in 2009. The bill would impose sanctions on those responsible for his death.

The bill is expected to win House approval, but a companion measure in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, faces opposition.

Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has not brought it to a committee vote. The White House also opposes the measure because it could create problems for its efforts to improve relations with Russia.

Opposition to the bills also is coming from private Russian sources.

Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, held a panel discussion in Washington this week to rally opponents.

“There is reason to suspect that the Magnitsky bill is not so much to do with punishing his tormentors as with poking the [Russian] bear, or more precisely, Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.