MOSCOW - A vote on a controversial Russian bill that would make it a crime to comply with Western sanctions on Russian territory was postponed by lawmakers Thursday, after business and banking leaders described it as unworkable.

The State Duma lower house voted to postpone its decision on the bill in its second reading and discuss it with business figures and experts.

The bill, passed unanimously in its first reading on Tuesday, would make it a crime punishable by four years in jail or a fine of 600,000 rubles ($9,678) to refuse to carry out business transactions "with the aim of promoting" sanctions imposed by foreign states.

It would also make it a crime punishable by three years in jail for Russian citizens to "carry out deliberate actions contributing to the introduction" of sanctions against a Russian entity, for example by providing information on it to foreign states or organisations.

Media reports suggested this could be used to target investigative journalists or MPs meeting officials on trips abroad. Critics said the bill was unworkable.

Even the finance ministry could have fallen under its terms, reported Vedomosti business daily, due to the imprecise wording of what constitutes a violation.

The newspaper wrote that most experts and business people it interviewed called the bill "an absolute nightmare."

The big business lobby group, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) on Wednesday stressed the "absolute unacceptability of passing this bill" in a statement.

The president of state-run VTB bank Andrei Kostin told Interfax news agency that both he and Viktor Vekselberg of Renova Group, while targeted by sanctions themselves, opposed the bill.

"We consider... this will cause further harm to the Russian economy in working with both Russian and foreign companies," Kostin said after meeting ruling party lawmakers.

The high-profile bill had been proposed by the leaders of parliamentary factions and the speaker of the Federation Council upper house, Valentina Matviyenko, and seemed on track to be rushed through after submission on Monday.

But the RSPP said the bill introduced excessive criminal charges and would put additional administrative pressure on businesses, leading to a "worsening in the business climate."

Forcing Russian companies, including those with state involvement, to carry out measures that contravene Western sanctions could see them face additional sanctions, causing a negative impact on the economy, it warned.

Russian MPs meanwhile on Thursday backed in the second reading a bill granting broadly-worded powers for Russia to impose counter-sanctions.

That bill was also toned down after MPs initially called for specific powers to ban US medicines, alcohol and tobacco products, as well as barring US citizens from working in Russia and to cease respecting US trademarks.