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Russia hits 18 US officials with tit-for-tat entry ban

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia on Saturday published its own blacklist of US officials banned from entering the country in retaliation for Washington blackballing 18 Russians over alleged human rights abuses.

Already-strained relations between the two countries chilled further as Russia hit back at what it called an "unfriendly" move by Washington that the foreign ministry warned would hurt mutual trust.

Among the 18 officials sanctioned by Russia were former Bush administration aide John Yoo, former CIA lawyer David Spears Addington, two former Guantanamo prison chiefs and officials who prosecuted convicted arms smuggler Viktor Bout.

"The war of lists is not our choice, but we cannot ignore outright blackmail," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

On Friday the US Treasury released a list barring 16 Russians allegedly linked to the death of jailed human rights lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, as well as two Chechens tied to other alleged rights abuses, from travelling to the US or holding assets there under the 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Act.

The measure infuriated Moscow which had vowed to retaliate with a similar measure. The foreign ministry on Saturday called the Magnitsky Act an "absurd" law that "intervenes in our domestic affairs" and "delivers a strong blow to bilateral relations."

While the US list mostly targeted mid- and low-level interior ministry officials which were involved in the case against the lawyer, Russia chose several names already known internationally due to torture allegations against them.

"Unlike the American list, which is formed arbitrarily, our list primarily includes those who are implicated in legalisation of torture and perpetual detentions in Guantanamo prison, to the arrests and kidnapping of Russian citizens," the ministry said.

"Politicians in Washington should finally realise that it is futile to build a relationship with a country like Russia in the spirit of mentoring and undisguised dictating," it said.

The list names four people allegedly implicated in Guantanamo abuses, including Addington, who served as chief of staff to former vice president Dick Cheney, Bush aide Yoo, and former Guantanamo heads Geoffrey Miller and Jeffrey Harbeson.

Another 14 people are named as having violated the rights of Russian citizens abroad. They include US District Judge Jed Rakoff and several prosecutors from his district in the state of New York, as well as several Drug Enforcement Administration officers and FBI agent Gregory Coleman.

Most of the Americans in the ministry's "stop-list" had been involved in cases against Russian arm smuggler Viktor Bout and drug-trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko in the US, both of which were hotly contested by Moscow.

Senior lawmaker Alexei Pushkov, who chairs the Russian Duma lower house foreign affairs committee, announced a "visa war" on his Twitter blog.

"The reset is dead," he wrote minutes after the ministry announcement, referring to the US-Russia policy of resetting relations launched in 2009.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Itar-TASS news agency that the Russian blacklist also includes a secret section which has more names, similar to a list of more highly placed Russian officials compiled by Washington.

"The list ... also has a closed section," Ryabkov said. "The Americans know about its existence."

Sergei Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention in 2009 at the age of 37 after being arrested and charged by the very same officials he had accused of organising a $230-million fraud scheme.

The case has come to symbolise the Kremlin's failure to crack down on corruption and has prompted a crisis in US-Russia ties.

Moscow reacted with anger when the Magnitsky Act was passed last year under which scores of Russians -- whose names have not been released publically -- were hit with sanctions and blacklisted from receiving a visa to the United States

In retaliation Russia passed a law which punishes alleged US rights abusers, but also includes a clause banning adoption of Russian children by Americans.

President Vladimir Putin had justified the legislation by the need to respond to a "purely political, unfriendly act" which has "sacrificed Russian-American relations."

The law, and the adoption ban, went into effect on January 1 despite massive protests in Russia and international criticism.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130413/russia-hits-18-us-officials-tit-tat-entry-ban-2