Russia Retaliates Against U.S., Bans American Officials

By Will Englund and Kathy Lally (October 22, 2011)

Stung by the U.S. decision to refuse visas to about 60 officials connected to the jail cell death of a whistleblowing lawyer, Russia said Saturday that it is retaliating by banning an unspecified number of Americans.

The United States devised its targeted blacklist as a way of bringing pressure on the Russian government over the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky. Russia is now reciprocating against those it deems guilty of “humanitarian” crimes.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman lashed out Saturday in unusually strong terms at American criticism of the handling of the Magnitsky case. “Such moralizing calls appear especially cynical against the background of the practical legalization of torture in U.S. special prisons, kidnappings and mistreatment of terrorism suspects, the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, uninvestigated murders of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Alexander Lukashevich said.

The Russian government has prepared a list of those involved in such cases, he said, as well as what he called the abductions of Russian citizens. That was an apparent reference to the prosecutions of two Russians in the United States: the alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout and a convicted cocaine smuggler, Konstantin Yaroshenko. Both were extradited to the United States from third countries, over strenuous Russian objections.

Neither side has identified any individual facing a visa ban. Given its broad sweep, it’s possible that the Russian list includes people who are not U.S. government officials.

The Russian announcement came a week after Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, concluded a six-day visit to Russia during which he met with opposition politicians and human rights activists in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan, asking how the United States could do more to support them. He said that the Obama administration’s reset in relations with Russia had been successful in many areas, with the exception of human rights, and that the United States intends to redouble its efforts in that realm.

Expulsions of diplomats are not that rare, usually over allegations of espionage, and inevitably result in counter-expulsions. Although the Magnitsky list is different in some important ways — its purpose is not to kick out diplomats but to bar entry to other sorts of officials who might wish to visit the United States — Russia seems to be responding in a traditional fashion.

“Unfortunately, whether someone might like this or not, there are some rules of the game, and they work faultlessly in diplomacy and international relations, and everyone uses these principles: These are ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’?” Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, said in a radio interview Friday.

Lukashevich said Saturday that if Washington continues to add names to its visa ban list, Russia will do the same. “This is not our choice,” he said. “We want an honest and mutually respectful dialogue and stronger interaction in all areas, including the visa field. It would be unacceptable if political games involving blacklists of Russians dash positive dynamism that has lately existed in Russian-U.S. relations.”