Russia hits back at US with visa blacklist: report

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Russia has banned several US citizens from entering the country in retaliation for Washington's visa blacklist for Russian officials linked to the death of a lawyer in prison, a report said Wednesday.

The Russian move is the latest sign of the damage inflicted on improving ties by the row over the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky which has become one of Russia's most notorious rights cases.

Russia is banning US citizens deemed to have violated the rights of Russians, including Viktor Bout, the alleged arms trader known in the West as the "Merchant of Death" who is now in US custody, the Kommersant daily said.

The United States announced last month it put officials it believes are responsible for the death of Magnitsky on a visa blacklist, provoking a warning from Moscow it risked harming the "reset" in ties.

Kommersant quoted concurring sources as saying Russia's tit-for-tat list, containing "several dozen Americans", was already ready even though their names would never be disclosed publicly.

It said those on the list are likely to include officials from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) implicated in the arrest of Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot detained in a drugs smuggling case.

"The list will not be made public. The Americans did not publish theirs and we will not show ours," a Russian official told the paper.

Another source said those on the list would not just be officials involved in the Bout and Yaroshenko cases as there is a "whole range of instances of the rights of Russian citizens being infringed."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declined to confirm to the paper that the list was ready. But he confirmed "that any American guilty of violating the rights of a Russian" could be included.

Magnitsky had been detained for 11 months awaiting trial in a high-profile fraud case. His supporters have argued top interior ministry officials deliberately neglected his health in an effective attempt to silence him.

However Russia so far has only opened criminal probes against the doctor and deputy chief of a Moscow prison over his death, which was caused by untreated pancreatitis.

© 2011 AFP

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