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HOUSE BACKS NEW TRADE WITH RUSSIA

WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives voted Friday to take a step toward normalizing trade relations with Russia, sweeping away one of the last vestiges of Cold War-era policy.

The final tally was 365-43, an unusually large margin for a body that seldom agrees to do anything in a bipartisan fashion.

Congressional officials say they expect the bill to pass in the Senate after some unresolved issues are ironed out.

A major factor in the legislation's approval - and one that has opened up a rift with Russia - was that while the House extended one hand, it slapped President Vladimir Putin and his government with the other.

Attached to the bill is a provision that seeks to punish Russians who are implicated in human rights abuses. Inspired by the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was tortured and died in prison in 2009 after he investigated government corruption, the bill would allow the United States to deny visas to Russian officials who are deemed abusers and to freeze their assets.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the House vote, calling it "a flagrantly unfriendly and provocative step," and pledged to retaliate.

Some experts estimate that the eased trade restrictions could double the amount of U.S. exports flowing to Russia to $19 billion in five years.

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