EU anger at ‘unjustified’ Russian travel blacklist

Foreign ministries demand explanation after 89 senior European figures barred from entry

Nick Clegg, former deputy British prime minister,  is among 89 European Union politicians and other senior figures who have been banned from entering Russia. Photograph: PA

Nick Clegg, former deputy British prime minister, is among 89 European Union politicians and other senior figures who have been banned from entering Russia. Photograph: PA

 

The European Union has strongly criticised a decision by Russia to ban 89 EU individuals from entering Russia as “totally arbitrary and unjustified”.

The Russian federation circulated a list of EU citizens whom it has prohibited from entering Russian territory, including government officials and other public figures, to a number of European embassies last week. No Irish individuals are included on the list, which appears to target individuals from countries who have taken a hard-line stance against Moscow since the eruption of tensions between Russia and the European Union over Ukraine.

Polish, British, Estonian and Sweden citizens top the list, which includes high-profile figures such as the leader of the British Liberal Democrats party Nick Clegg, former Belgian prime minister and leader of the liberal group Alde in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, and senior figures working for British intelligence services.

The list also includes MEPs from a number of countries who have been denied entry into Russia over the past few months.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the EU considered the measure as “totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency.”

Noting that the so-called “stop list” includes a number of MEPs, head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said that the decision to impose travels bans was “unacceptable”: “This further diminishes mutual trust and hampers any efforts for constructive dialogue to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the current geopolitical crisis.”

Russia and the European Union have been locked in a diplomatic stand-off since late 2013, after Ukraine declined to sign an association agreement with the European Union, sparking violent protests in the former Russian enclave and leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea and ongoing conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine.

A Russian foreign ministry official said that the ban was a response to EU sanctions against Russia.

The EU is due to reassess sanctions imposed on Russian individuals and entities last year towards the end of this month amid mixed views from member states about the merits of maintaining them. Both the US and EU have imposed sanctions on certain Russian companies and individuals, including people close to the Kremlin, as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and continuing tension in eastern Ukraine.

Rebecca Harms, the co-president of the Green group in the European Parliament who was denied entry into Russia earlier this year and is included on the list, said the blacklist was a “heavy blow” for EU-Russia relations, even if its confirmation was not a surprise.

“The blacklist targets European politicians who have engaged in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the strengthening of civil society in Russia and those who have supported Ukraine. Vladimir Putin evidently interprets any honest criticism of his authoritarian course as a threat to his power.”

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the blacklist was “not based on international law”, while German foreign minister Walter Steinmeier said the list was damaging for Ukraine peace efforts.