Not too many Americans noticed last Thursday’s passage of the Magnitsky Act that was part of a larger bill to normalize trade with Russia. But the overwhelming Senate vote (92-4), following passage last month in the House, sure got the Kremlin’s attention.

On its Twitter account, the foreign ministry in Moscow called the human rights statute “something out of the theater of the absurd.” Another tweet said, “It is perplexing and preposterous to hear human rights complaints from the US, where torture and kidnapping are legal in the 21st century.” And: “This biased approach is nothing but a vindictive desire to counter Russia in world affairs.”

Once President Obama signs the law, Russian abusers of human rights will be banned from entering or banking in the U.S. The provision was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a corruption whistleblower who was killed in police custody in 2009.

Another Russian whistleblower, 44-year-old Alexander Perepilichny, collapsed and died recently in Surrey, England, under mysterious circumstances. A Russian citizen, Perepilichny had sought refuge in Britain three years ago and was believed to be providing evidence against those implicated in Magnitsky’s death. He is the fourth person linked to the Magnitsky case to die in suspicious ways.

The Kremlin has for months made vague threats of retribution against the U.S. if the Magnitsky law passed. And on Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the law and recommended to the Duma some “adequate but not exorbitant” retaliation.

Please fume away, Mr. Putin. Let the Russian people know that the U.S. continues to care about rights and democratic freedoms. They might have gotten the wrong impression in recent years.

Throughout the first term President Obama has pushed a “reset” in relations with Russia, muting criticism of Mr. Putin’s slide to authoritarianism. The Administration tried to kill the Magnitsky Act, and in his statement on its passage Mr. Obama pointedly failed even to mention Magnitsky or the provision named after him in the new law. We can be grateful that at least Congress was willing to stand up for American values.

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