MOSCOW -- Russian officials Saturday banned 18 American officials from entering the country, a day after the U.S. announced similar sanctions on 18 Russians in connection with the prosecution and subsequent death of Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky.
The auditor’s death in custody in 2009, after allegedly blowing the whistle on a multimillion-dollar scam, led to passage of a law calling for visa restrictions and financial sanctions for those involved. The American list published Friday included Russian police officers, tax inspectors and other officials, most of whom were involved with the Magnitsky case.
The Russian list published Saturday on the Foreign Ministry’s website contained 18 names of U.S. officials, generals, judges, attorneys, agents responsible for organizing the Guantanamo detention camp or for the arrests, prosecution and judging of Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout and Russian pilot-turned-drug-smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko. Both have been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the United States.
Responding to the American list, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called the Magnitsky legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December an “absurd law.”
“Our principled position of this unfriendly step is well known,” Lukashevich said in televised remarks Saturday. “Under the pressure from the Russo-phobically inclined U.S. Congress members, a strong blow has been dealt to the bilateral relations and mutual understanding.”
“The war of lists is not our choice but we have no right not to respond to an outright blackmail,” Lukashevich said in his statement. “It is high time politicians in Washington finally realized that it is pointless to build relations with such a country as Russia in the spirit of mentoring and unconcealed diktat.”
Russia previously responded to the Magnitsky law by enforcing a total ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. couples and imposing serious restrictions on Russian non-government organizations sponsored by the West.
Both lists of banned officials appeared more moderate than previously threatened. But they still have the potential of being expanded at any time, Andrei Kortunov, president of New Eurasia Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank, said in an interview.
Americans barred from entering Russia include two former Bush administration officials, former Justice Department legal advisor John Yoo and former vice presidential staff head David Addington. Others include two former heads of the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, a federal judge in New York, eight New York-based federal prosecutors, four DEA agents and one FBI agent.