WASHINGTON - Russia on Tuesday criticized a round of U.S. sanctions against Russian officials, saying the move is a further step to degrade relations between the two countries.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia regrets the decline in relations during President Barack Obama's second term and hopes for positive developments in the future.
The U.S. announced the sanctions Monday against Russia's top investigator and four other officials for what the State Department called "notorious human rights violations."
The five Russians, along with two other men with alleged ties to Hezbollah, were sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.
U.S. officials did not say exactly what the seven are being sanctioned for. But State Department spokesman John Kirby said, "Each of the most recently added names was considered after extensive research."
Kirby said the five Russians played "roles in the repressive machinery of Russia's law enforcement systems, as well as individuals involved in notorious human rights violations."
They include Alexander Bastrykin, who is believed to be the Kremlin's top investigator and leads the crackdown on dissenters.
Two others on the list are Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, whom Britain has named as the two top suspects in the poisoning death of Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
The 44 people now on the list are barred from entering the United States and their U.S. assets are frozen. U.S. citizens are forbidden from carrying out any financial transactions with them.
The Magnitsky Act was named for Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 after spending a year in prison and in poor health.
Russian investigators ruled there was nothing criminal in Magnitsky's death.
But the State Department alleges there is plenty of evidence to show Magnitsky was beaten in his jail cell, and his illnesses went untreated.