Russian Official Angrily Rebuts Criticism by U.S.

From Associated Press

Russia's foreign minister criticized the United States on Sunday for expressing concern about actions against the giant Yukos oil company, but President Vladimir V. Putin's new chief of staff said he doubted the wisdom of freezing a large chunk of the company's shares.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week that the Bush administration regarded the arrest and jailing of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud and other charges -- and the freezing of 40% of the company's stock -- as raising "serious questions about the rule of law in Russia."

Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, speaking on state television, reacted angrily.

"The United States is trying to place the actions of the judicial organs of Russia in doubt. This is interference in the judicial affairs of another state that is not acceptable, and should not be, in the normal terms of democratic society," Ivanov said.

He noted that several massive financial scandals have hit the United States and he accused Washington of employing a "double standard" because "the State Department did not express its anxiety about any of those noisy scandals, did not interfere in the judicial process."

Ivanov continued, "To teach other people -- that's the fashion in Washington."

Russian officials have said the moves against Russia's biggest oil firm are strictly a matter of law. Khodorkovsky is charged with fraud, forgery and tax evasion.

Many analysts and politicians say the moves appear to be a vendetta against Khodorkovsky for his support of opposition parties.

The moves against Khodorkovsky triggered a sharp fall in Russia's stock market.

"Consequences of actions that have not been carefully thought out will immediately affect the economy and stir up political affairs," Putin's chief of staff, Dmitry Medvedev, said on state television. "A question arises as to how legally efficient the sequestration of the Yukos shares really is."

Medvedev was appointed chief of staff late Thursday after Alexander S. Voloshin resigned the post, reportedly over Khodorkovsky's arrest.

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