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Obama expected to visit Moscow despite ‘mini crisis’

PRESIDENT Barack Obama is likely to visit Russia in the first half of 2013 despite a "mini-crisis" in relations over US moves to punish Russians accused of rights violations, the Kremlin said today.

Yury Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to President Vladimir Putin, gave no further details. Obama and Putin have both signalled since winning presidential elections this year that they want an improvement in U.S.-Russian ties.

Putin invited Obama to visit Russia after the U.S. leader's election for a second presidential term last month, but relations between the former Cold War-era rivals remain uneasy.

The Russian leader, who won election for a third term in March, has been angered by the passage by the U.S. Congress of the so-called Magnitsky Act at the same time as it ratified Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization.

The Magnitsky Act would require the United States to deny visas and freeze assets of Russian officials accused of involvement in the death in prison of anti-graft lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law last week.

"The Americans haven't created a mini-crisis out of nothing. We are losing time for the normal development of relations," Ushakov told a news briefing.

"Now we should spend some time on getting through this mini-crisis. Why do we need it? It's incomprehensible."

Obama, who visited Russia in 2009, struck up a good rapport with then-President Dmitry Medvedev, launching a 'reset' in bilateral relations that led to the signing of a new nuclear-arms reduction treaty.

But Obama has a more difficult relationship with Putin. Russia has assumed the presidency of the Group of 20 for the coming year and hosts a summit in St Petersburg next September.

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